The Dark Emotions That Can Lead To Success (M)

There are different paths to success — not everyone gets there by the conventional route of following their dreams and being endlessly positive.

There are different paths to success -- not everyone gets there by the conventional route of following their dreams and being endlessly positive.

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The Weirdest Way To Instantly Relieve Stress

Difficulties dealing with stress are linked to mental health problems.

Difficulties dealing with stress are linked to mental health problems.

Smelling your partner’s clothes helps to reduce stress levels, research finds.

Women who smelled their partner’s t-shirt felt calmer afterwards.

In comparison, those who smelled a stranger’s t-shirt experienced increases in the stress hormone, cortisol.

Women may be particularly susceptible to the effect as their sense of smell is stronger than men.

Ms Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author, said:

“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviours.

Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”

96 opposite-sex couples were included in the study.

The women were subjected to a mock interview and math test to make them stressed.

Afterwards, they smelled t-shirts that were either unworn, smelled of their partner, or of a stranger.

Saliva tests showed that cortisol was lower when women smelled their partner’s t-shirt.

The stress-reducing effect was even stronger if the women successfully recognised the t-shirt as belonging to their partner.

Ms Hofer said:

“From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol.

This could happen without us being fully aware of it.”

Dr Frances Chen, study co-author, said:

“With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities.

Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Hofer et al., 2018).

The Best Way To Deal With Negative Emotions

People who dealt with emotions this way were happier and less likely to be depressed.

People who dealt with emotions this way were happier and less likely to be depressed.

People who allow themselves to feel negative emotions are happier and less depressed, research finds.

Feeling emotions like anger and hatred at appropriate times is linked to greater satisfaction with life.

It is the first study of its kind to find this link between happiness and feeling negative emotions.

It makes sense given that positive emotions do not always have ‘good’ outcomes and negative emotions do not necessarily have ‘bad’ outcomes.

For example, love could make a person stay with an abusive partner.

Anger could help that person leave the abusive relationship.

Dr Maya Tamir, the study’s first author, said:

“Happiness is more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain.

Happiness is about having experiences that are meaningful and valuable, including emotions that you think are the right ones to have.

All emotions can be positive in some contexts and negative in others, regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant.”

In general, people naturally wanted to experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions.

Around one-in-ten people, though, said they experienced too much love and empathy.

Another one-in-ten said they wanted to feel more unpleasant emotions like hatred or anger.

Dr Tamir said:

“People want to feel very good all the time in Western cultures, especially in the United States.

Even if they feel good most of the time, they may still think that they should feel even better, which might make them less happy overall.”

The results come from surveys of 2,324 students in the US, Brazil, China, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Poland and Singapore.

They were asked about the emotions they actually felt and those they wanted to feel.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (Tamir et al., 2017).

Nostalgia: 8 Benefits Of This Beautiful Emotion

Nostalgia has been rehabilitated from a disease of the mind to a beneficial emotional experience, but it has its psychological drawbacks.

Nostalgia has been rehabilitated from a disease of the mind to a beneficial emotional experience, but it has its psychological drawbacks.

Nostalgia is an emotion related to a past place or time, mainly one that has positive associations.

Nostalgia comes from two Greek words, literally meaning ‘homecoming’ + ‘ache’.

Touch, smell, weather and music are powerful ways of inducing nostalgia in people.

Nostalgia was a disease

It seems incredible now, but at one time nostalgia used to be considered a psychiatric condition:

“Nostalgia was regarded as a medical disease confined to the Swiss, a view that persisted through most of the 19th century.

Symptoms—including bouts of weeping, irregular heartbeat, and anorexia—were attributed variously to demons inhabiting the middle brain, sharp differentiation in atmospheric pressure wreaking havoc in the brain, or the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Swiss Alps which damaged the eardrum and brain cells.” (Sedikides et al., 2008)

Nowadays we know that it’s not just the Swiss that ‘suffer’ from nostalgia, it’s most people, to varying degrees.

One survey finds that 80 percent of people feel nostalgic at least once a week.

There’s some reason to think nostalgia might be bad for you, as it does have negative components.

Is nostalgia bad for you?

Nostalgia is often experienced as a loss or longing for what has now gone.

But studies suggest that at the same time people experience warm, positive emotions as they remember happy times.

Indeed, people often find the positive components of nostalgia stronger than the negative.

That’s why far from being seen as a disease of the mind, modern psychologists have been attracted to the positive attributes of nostalgia.

Here are a few of them, with one word of caution:

1. Nostalgia fights loneliness

When people are nostalgic, it almost always involves other people.

As social creatures, nostalgia helps remind us of our connections to others and staves off loneliness.

Indeed, people who are more resilient naturally use nostalgia to help themselves feel better, researchers has found (Zhou et al., 2008).

The study’s authors write:

“Nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, is a self-relevant and social emotion: The self almost invariably figures as the protagonist in nostalgic narratives and is almost always surrounded by close others.

Along with close others (family members, friends, partners), the most common objects of nostalgic reverie are momentous events (birthdays, vacations) and settings (sunsets, lakes).”

Nostalgia often includes a mix of positive and negative emotions.

One remembers a far off, warm day surrounded by friends who are now far away or gone.

The feelings of camaraderie are tinged with those of loss and sadness.

However, psychologists still find that nostalgia is, on balance, a positive feeling.

For the study, people were made to focus on loneliness.

This had the effect of making them more nostalgic — especially among more resilient people.

The authors explain the results:

“Nostalgia magnifies perceptions of social support and, in so doing, thwarts the effect of loneliness.

Nostalgia restores an individual’s social connectedness.


…the association between loneliness and nostalgia is
particularly pronounced among highly resilient individuals.

It is these individuals who, when lonely, report high levels of nostalgia.”

2. Nostalgia increases resilience

Nostalgia, in terms of recalling positive memories can promote resilience.

One study found that people who recalled a previous situation that was dealt with successfully became more resilient (Paersch et al., 2021).

The technique works best if the memory is of overcoming a significant challenge.

In contrast, just recalling a positive memory is not enough.

Passing an exam, dealing with a difficult conversation and giving a presentation are all examples of successfully using personal skills.

In contrast, a fun day at the park might be a positive experience, but is probably not testing your mettle.

Memories of successfully overcoming challenging situations, though, help boost what psychologists refer to as self-efficacy.

Professor Birgit Kleim, the study’s first author, explains:

“Self-efficacy is a key element of resilience.

By self-efficacy, I mean the belief that we have the ability to influence things to at least a small degree, even if some things are unchangeable.

Without believing in your own capabilities, you wouldn’t take on any challenges in the first place.”

3. Nostalgia can reduce depression

Recalling positive memories helps to build resilience against depression (Askelund et al., 2019).

While people tend to believe that psychological resilience is set in stone, it is something that can be built up.

Getting nostalgic about happy events and having a store of these to draw on is one way of building up resilience.

Thinking back to better times, even if they are tinged with some sadness, helps people cope with challenging times.

Mr Adrian Dahl Askelund, the study’s first author, said:

“Our work suggests that ‘remembering the good times’ may help build resilience to stress and reduce vulnerability to depression in young people.

This is important as we already know that it is possible to train people to come up with specific positive memories.

This could be a beneficial way of helping support those young people at risk of depression.”

The study included 427 young people who were at risk of depression.

They were asked to recall recent life events that were prompted by a word like ‘happy’.

The results showed that adolescents who recalled more specific happy memories and fewer negative thoughts had lower levels of cortisol.

Cortisol is sometimes known as the ‘stress hormone’.

Adolescents with lower levels of cortisol had a reduced risk of developing depression over the subsequent year.

4. The danger of too much nostalgia

While nostalgia can be a powerful positive emotion, too much could be damaging.

One study has found that thinking about the future is better for mental health than nostalgia for the past (Dennis et al., 2021).

People who imagined their best possible selves felt more positive emotions than those who engaged in nostalgia.

The best possible self exercise involves imagining your life in the future, but a future where everything that could go well, has gone well.

It is not an exercise in fantasy, rather it requires envisioning a realistic and positive future.

Ms Amelia Dennis, the study’s first author:

“We found that looking to the future and appreciating what is positive in our lives currently is more psychologically beneficial than reminiscing about the past.”

The future-oriented techniques may work best because they tend to foster hope.

When people are looking forward to positive aspects of life, it takes their mind off the current situation.

More benefits of nostalgia

Despite the caveat that nostalgia should not be overdone, psychologists have found that it has all sorts of other benefits:

  1. Nostalgia fights boredom. When people are bored they use nostalgia to give their lives meaning. Thinking about the past helps them feel that life has more purpose in the present.
  2. Nostalgia fights worries about mortality. When people are exposed to reminders of illness and death, they fight it with nostalgia, which again brings meaning and connection with others.
  3. Nostalgia improves mood. Thinking happy thoughts about the past naturally makes people feel happier.
  4. Nostalgia provides existential meaning. People feel their lives have more meaning when they think back to past happy events.
  5. Nostalgia promotes psychological growth. People thinking nostalgically are more likely to see themselves as growth-oriented.

So nostalgia is well on its way to being rehabilitated.

From a disease of the mind to a valuable emotional resource: nostalgia really isn’t what it used to be.


Self-Compassion: 11 Things You Should Know

Self-compassion involves recognising that everyone makes mistakes and fails and that is just the way life is.

Self-compassion involves recognising that everyone makes mistakes and fails and that is just the way life is.

Self-compassion involves thinking about the self with kindness, sympathy and compassion, without evaluating, judging or being critical of the self.

The feeling of self-compassion involves recognising that everyone makes mistakes and fails and that is just the way life is.

What a wonderful world it would be if people could generate a little more self-compassion and compassion for others.

The power of compassion is stronger than empathy or sympathy because it is about imagining the suffering of others at a deeper level; consequently it is more likely to motivate action.

And compassion isn’t just beneficial for the person being helped — nurturing compassion has some remarkable psychological effects on the self.

Below are some psychology studies that reveal what you need to know about compassion and self-compassion.

All of these studies show that the following quote from the Dalai Lama couldn’t be more true:

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

1. Self-compassion can be learned

Compassion is not something you either have or you don’t — it can (and should) be learned and nurtured.

That’s been demonstrated by Weng et al. (2013) who gave participants a one-day course in loving kindness meditation to improve their self-compassion.

This helps foster benevolent and loving feelings towards the self and others.

After the self-compassion training, people felt better in themselves, were more compassionate towards others and there was more activation in the areas of the brain associated with love, affiliation and positive emotion.

This was true even when they were shown videos of people in distress which previously had caused negative emotions.

The lead author of the study, Helen Weng said:

“It’s kind of like weight training.

Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

2. Compassion motivates action

It’s all very well feeling more compassionate, but it’s not much use if you don’t do anything about it.

Compassion, though, can be a powerful motivating force.

In one study, participants who had been meditating were given an undercover test of their compassion (Condon et al., 2013).

They were sat in a staged waiting area with two actors when another actor entered on crutches, pretending to be in great pain.

The two actors sat next to the participants both ignored the person who was in pain, sending the unconscious signal not to intervene.

Those who had been meditating, though, were 50 percent more likely to help the person in pain than a control group who had not been meditating.

One of the study’s authors, David DeSteno, said:

“The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuous–to help another who was suffering–even in the face of a norm not to do so.”

3. Happier and healthier with compassion

Along with being beneficial to others, experiencing more compassion benefits your own psychological and physical health.

A study by Fredrickson et al. (2008) had participants direct their loving compassion towards themselves over a week, then in the next week towards their loved ones.

The researchers found that those participants who had been randomly assigned to meditate compassionately showed increased levels of daily happiness compared with a control group.

Not only this, but those meditating compassionately also experienced less depression, had higher satisfaction with life and were in better physical shape.

4. Boost immune response

The power of compassion also reaches into the body’s immune and stress response systems.

Pace et al. (2009) found that participants who’d been doing more compassionate meditation had stronger immune responses to a stressor, as measured physiologically by interleukin and cortisol levels.

5. Compassion boosts empathic neural response

Neuroscientists have found that increased loving compassion can be measured in the living brain.

In a study by Lutz et al. (2008), expert and novice meditators generated a mental state of loving-kindness-compassion while their brains were scanned.

At certain points while participants were in the brain scanner the experimenters fed in sounds of distress.

While the participants were concentrating on being compassionate, the brain regions responsible for the processing of emotions were enhanced, compared with when they were at rest.

In addition, the areas associated with empathy and understanding other people’s minds were also more active.

6. Increased empathy

Since compassionate thought boosts activity in the empathic centers of the brain, it also boosts empathic accuracy.

Mascaro et al., (2013) gave participants a test of empathy called the ‘Mind in the Eyes Test’ which involves guessing emotions from only a pair of eyes.

Those who’d completed a short course on compassion did better on the test, showing that their empathic accuracy was enhanced.

7. More helpful with compassion

In a study by Leiberg et al. (2011), participants played a game called the Zurich Prosocial Game (ZPG).

This tests whether they reciprocate, whether they respond when others are in distress and assesses the costs of helping.

Beforehand, some participants had been given short-term compassion training.

Their test results were compared with a control group who had received memory training.

The compassion training group demonstrated more prosocial behaviour–in other words they were more helpful towards others.

8. Compassion reduces fear of suffering

The pain of others is distressing and it’s a natural reaction to avoid people in pain.

But being more compassionate can change this, causing negative avoiding emotions to be replaced with positive compassionate emotions.

That’s what Klimecki et al. (2013) found when they gave participants compassion training and then exposed them to a video about people in distress.

After the training people responded neurally with more love, affiliation and positive emotions to suffering.

9. Self-compassion is the antitoxin of the soul

Self-compassion is sometimes seen as the ‘soft option’, but it shouldn’t be as it can be highly motivating.

Let’s take an example: imagine someone is trying to deal with a recent period of low self-confidence.

Here are three possible ways to deal with it:

  • Self-esteem boost: think about positive aspects of the self to boost confidence.
  • Positive distraction: think back to nice memories to create a distraction from the problem.
  • Self-compassion: think about the self with kindness and compassion, seeing the period of low self-confidence in context, without evaluating or judging it.

When psychological researchers tested these approaches they found that self-compassion was surprisingly powerful (Breines & Chen, 2012).

In comparison to self-esteem boosting and distraction, this study found that self-compassion was most likely to help participants:

  • See the possibilities for change,
  • Increase the motivation to change,
  • Take steps towards making a change,
  • Compare themselves with those doing better, to help motivate their change.

So, self-compassion did not emerge as the soft-option: in fact, quite the opposite.

By being sympathetic and non-judgemental towards the self, people were able to avoid both harsh self-criticism and potentially fragile self-enhancement.

When participants thought back to insecurities in their relationships, their shyness or social anxieties, it was showing compassion towards themselves that helped the most.

This may be because self-compassion builds a more balanced way of reacting to both failures in ourselves and difficult situations we find ourselves in.

As the American writer Eric Hoffer said:

“Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.”

10. Self-compassion combats setbacks

Practising self-compassion in distressing times can boost mental health (Kim et al., 2020).

Self-compassion is also linked by research to more:

  • optimism,
  • feeling alive,
  • and energy.

Mr Jeffrey Kim, the first author of the current study, said:

“Our research provides evidence to support the positive impact that self-compassion can have on the brain and body when dealing with rejection, disappointment and setback.”

The study included 40 people who were asked to be either self-compassionate or critical about themselves before their brains were scanned.

Mr Kim explained the results:

“Using brain imaging techniques, we found that when faced with rejection or disappointment, practicing compassion helped reduce activation within brain regions associated with threat, such as the amygdala.

In contrast, people who were critical of themselves due to these disappointments had heightened activation within the brain’s neural networks associated with threat and pain.”

11. How to develop self-compassion

You can listen to and follow the self-compassion exercise used in the study carried out by Kim et al., 2020 (it takes 15 minutes) here:

You might also like to try a writing exercise.

Think about a recent negative experience and write about it.

Crucially, though, you need to write about it while being compassionate towards yourself.

In other words: don’t be too critical and recognise that everyone makes mistakes.

In addition, a practical approach to boosting self-compassion is explained in my ebook “Accept Yourself“.


Venting Emotions Can Be Psychological Damaging

Venting means letting off steam by talking about a distressing event afterwards — a process that is supposed to help, but does it?

Venting means letting off steam by talking about a distressing event afterwards — a process that is supposed to help, but does it?

After suffering a traumatic experience, ‘common sense’ has it that immediately ‘venting’ or ‘letting off steam’ by talking about the experience helps protect against future psychological problems.

But, does venting work?

That’s the question Dr Mark Seery from the University of Buffalo and colleagues ask in a study that examined how people coped with the aftermath of the ‘9/11’ terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

The research, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, suggests that talking about thoughts and feelings after a trauma, or venting, may not help (Seery et al., 2008).

Worse, it may be psychologically damaging.

Venting after a collective trauma

This study’s first set of data was collected on the day of September 11th 2001.

As people sat at home trying to digest the shocking events of the day, 36,000 people were contacted through the internet.

These people were part of a pre-selected nationally representative sample of participants who had already agreed to receive regular requests for surveys.

They were simply prompted to express whatever thoughts and emotions were currently on their minds, should they choose to do so.

Of all these people, 2,138 people were followed up over a period of two years after 9/11 to see how they coped with the collective trauma.

The aim of the researcher’s prompt was to make it similar to a psychologist asking someone to share their experience after they witness a traumatic event.

Naturally, some people choose to vent and others don’t.

In this study, 1,559 chose venting, while 579 remained silent.

The results make surprising reading.

What they found was that choosing to respond to the prompt for venting was a significant predictor of suffering post-traumatic stress (PTS).

What’s more, the longer the response and therefore the more the venting, the greater the level of subsequent PTS.

This suggests that, contrary to popular expectations, expressing thoughts and emotions soon after a traumatic event – ‘letting off steam’ or venting – might actually predict a worse psychological outcome.

Alternate explanations

Although this is a strong finding in a large nationally representative sample, some alternate explanations are possible.

Here are the main ones the authors consider:

  • Did those who didn’t respond to the prompt express themselves elsewhere? Probably not: other measures suggested that those who didn’t respond naturally stayed quiet in these situations.
  • Did those who did respond do so because they couldn’t talk to anyone else? Probably not: having fewer social networks was not associated with a greater chance of responding to the prompt.
  • Were those who responded already more traumatised? Probably not: there was still a relationship between responding to the prompt and PTS symptoms even when lifetime trauma was taken into account.

It’s important to note that this study is not strong evidence that talking about an event actually causes a worse psychological outcome, just that remaining silent isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Junking the hydraulic metaphor

If accurate, these results stand in stark contrast to what has become the accepted wisdom.

Offering psychological counselling in the aftermath of traumatic events has now become a normal, automatic official response.

Popular techniques include ‘Critical Incident Stress Debriefing’, which is thought to reassure trauma sufferers that their responses are normal and help reduce the chances of PST.

These techniques are in line with the ‘hydraulic theory’ of the emotions – a popularly held view of how the emotions work.

In this view, people’s emotions work in the same way as a pressure cooker.

Emotions build up inside until the mind can no longer contain the pressure.

Then steam is ‘let off’, through venting, releasing the pressure inside and improving the mood.

People who choose not to let off steam in this way are popularly seen as being in denial, and this denial is often seen as pathological.

In recent years, however, the hydraulic metaphor and the therapies that implicitly rely on it have been seriously questioned.

Studies on ‘Critical Incident Stress Debriefing’ have not only found that the technique may provide no benefit to trauma sufferers, but that it also may be harmful.

The strong silent type avoids venting

Dr Seery’s study extends these criticisms to attack the broader idea that talking about a traumatic event soon after it has occurred is usually beneficial.

Mounting evidence suggests that those who do not talk about a traumatic event are simply more resilient, rather than being in a state of pathological denial.

This study is also backed up by previous work carried out by Professor Bernard Rime from the Universite Catholique de Louvain.

Rime and colleagues have found that despite the fact that people are likely to share their feelings after an emotional event, this sharing does not promote recovery.

So it’s time to throw out the old hydraulic metaphor and its attendant rapid intervention therapies.

Just because some people prefer to deal with a trauma quietly on their own doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.

While most people do choose to share with others, this immediate sharing probably isn’t a major contributor to psychological recovery.


The Painkiller That Kills Your Ability to Feel Pleasure (M)

Painkilling drugs taken every week by almost a quarter of Americans also kill positive emotions.

Painkilling drugs taken every week by almost a quarter of Americans also kill positive emotions.

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The Psychology Of Regrets In Life: How The Emotion Shapes Us

Regrets can be powerful and long-lasting, psychologists find, but self-compassion can help us avoid this troubling emotion.

Regrets can be powerful and long-lasting, psychologists find, but self-compassion can help us avoid this troubling emotion.

Regrets might not make a list of the most powerful emotions.

It would probably include things like anger, happiness, jealousy, sadness and especially for us English, embarrassment.

We tend to think of having regrets as essentially a backward-looking.

We regret things in the past, like not trying hard enough in school, how we treated a friend or the things we said to our partner in the heat of an argument.

The top 10 regrets

Romantic regrets are the most common type, research finds (Morrison & Roese, 2011).

Among women, regrets about romance were twice as common as among men.

For men, work regrets were most widespread.

Other common areas of regret included financial decisions, parenting mistakes, missed educational opportunities and family arguments.

Professor Neal Roese, an author of this study, said:

“We found that one’s life circumstances, such as accomplishments or shortcomings, inject considerable fuel into the fires of regret.

Although regret is painful, it is an essential component of the human experience.”

Single people were most likely to have romantic regret, the researchers found.

In general people regretted actions and inactions to equal degrees.

Longest lasting regrets

But it was regrets about things that people didn’t do that lasted the longest.

Here is the full list of most commonly described regrets:

  1. Romance, lost love – 18.1%
  2. Family – 15.9%
  3. Education – 13.1%
  4. Career – 12.2%
  5. Finance – 9.9%
  6. Parenting – 9.0%
  7. Health – 6.3%
  8. Other – 5.6%
  9. Friends – 3.6%
  10. Spirituality – 2.3%

Education seems to play a role in career regrets, the study’s authors explain:

“Americans with high levels of education had the most career-related regrets.

Apparently, the more education obtained, the more acute may be the sensitivity to aspiration and fulfillment.”

Professor Roese said:

“Past research on regrets focused on samples of college students, which made it difficult to glean insights into the wider population.

This research, however, offers a unique and more thorough look into the psychology of regret to further understand how regret connects to life circumstances and its impact on decision making.”

Are regrets pointless?

In some senses regrets are useless, since regrets are for something you can’t change.

But, regret isn’t just a backward-looking emotion, it also looks forward and it can be a terribly powerful emotion which affects our behaviour in the here and now.

That’s because we also have the power to anticipate feeling regret in the future, which we naturally try to avoid.

My favourite example involves a simple study about lottery tickets and pens.

Would you swap the ticket?

In this study, participants were given lottery tickets—not real ones, but organised by the researchers so that one person could win.

Then, they were asked if they would be willing to exchange them for another one which had an identical chance of winning (Bar-Hillel & Neter, 1996).

To encourage them to switch tickets, they were offered a tasty truffle.

Even though there was no difference between the tickets and there was a treat as an incentive, less than 50 percent of participants agreed.

Then the experiment was repeated with different participants, except this time, instead of lottery tickets, participants were given pens.

As before they were offered a small incentive to make the switch.

In this condition 90 percent of participants agreed to the swap.

Why the huge difference?

What is going on is that a pen is just a pen, but a lottery ticket is not just a lottery ticket.

No matter what, all the pens are identical, but only one lottery ticket will actually win, although before the draw they all have the same chance of winning.

What this means is that we can start using our imaginations, projecting ourselves forward into the future and thinking about possible consequences and regrets.

What if we decide to swap our lottery ticket and then it turns out to be the winning one?

How will we feel then?

It’s this anticipation of regrets that stops people swapping their tickets.

Anticipated regrets

The odd thing is that some psychologists argue that anticipating regrets may be stronger than the actual regret we would feel if our choices don’t work out.

Anticipated regret is such a powerful emotion that it can cause us to avoid risk, lower our expectations, steer us towards the familiar and away from new, interesting experiences.

We anticipate more regrets when we go against the grain, when we make positive decisions ourselves, rather than letting the chips fall as they may.

And all for what?

So that we can avoid something that won’t be that bad anyway and might not happen at all?

People sometimes boast that they have no regrets, which I don’t believe.

But I’d like to hear them say they’ve got no anticipated regrets.

That would be something to be proud of.

After all, the past is gone, but we’ve still got a chance of shaping the future.

Move on from regrets with self-compassion

Self-compassion helps people move on from regrets, research finds (Zhang & Chen, 2016).

Being kind to oneself is an excellent way of letting go of past disappointments, embarrassments and failures.

Indeed it may be that with self-compassion, it is possible to feel stronger after life’s inevitable hiccups.

The study’s authors conclude that self-compassion works by increasing acceptance:

“…self-compassion led to greater personal improvement, in part, through heightened acceptance.

Furthermore, self-compassion’s effects on personal improvement were distinct from self-esteem and were not explained by adaptive emotional responses.

Overall, the results suggest that self-compassion spurs positive adjustment in the face of regrets.”

Here is how the instruction people were given in the study to encourage them to think more self-compassionately and reduce regrets:

“Imagine that you are talking to yourself about this regret from a compassionate and understanding perspective.

What would you say?”

People who write self-compassionately felt more self-forgiveness, personal improvement and self-acceptance, research finds.

Self-compassion probably works in multiple ways to reduce regrets.

Not only does it better allow us to confront our regrets, it also enables us to see them in their true light.

After all, we are all only human.


Alexithymia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes & Traits

The signs, symptoms, causes and traits of alexithymia, which is a personality trait that involves lack of felt emotion and difficulty identifying emotions in others.

The signs, symptoms, causes and traits of alexithymia, which is a personality trait that involves lack of felt emotion and difficulty identifying emotions in others.

Alexithymia is a subclinical condition characterised by an inability to express or identify felt emotions (Berthoz et al.. 2002).

It is thought to affect 10 percent of the population (Linden, Wen & Paulhaus, 1994).

What is alexithymia?

The term also includes the following mix of characteristics.

  • problems distinguishing emotions from physiological arousal,
  • difficulty describing emotions to other people
  • tendency to focus on external events,
  • conflict avoidance,
  • lower ability to engage in fantasy.

(These signs are from Berthoz et al. (2002) and Vermeulen, Luminet and Corneille (2006)).

Like other personality traits, alexithymia varies between people along a spectrum.

Therefore, some people may have some lack of felt emotions and others much more.

Signs and symptoms of alexithymia

Since people with alexithymia typically have a lack of feelings or at least a lack understanding of their feelings, it can be difficult recognise.

People with alexithymia tend to come across as apathetic or out of touch.

An individual with alexithymia, though, might experience some of these symptoms in a social situation:

  • confusion
  • anger
  • emptiness
  • lack of affection
  • difficulty “reading faces”
  • discomfort
  • increased heart rate
  • panic

Here are some more signs and symptoms of alexithymia that people report:

  • Very logical and realistic thinking processes
  • Confusing the physical sensations of emotions and feelings
  • Problems working with one’s own feelings
  • Few dreams or fantasies
  • Treat themselves like robots

Other conditions linked to alexithymia

Alexithymia has been linked to a range of conditions, although it is not clear how these links operate.

Here are some of the conditions it has been linked to:

  • Depression
  • Autism
  • Trauma
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury

Causes of alexithymia in the brain

Alexithymia is not well understood, but researchers have examined its correlates in the brain.

In order to investigate the brain activity that might be associated with alexithymia, Berthoz et al. (2002) carried out an fMRI study, focussing on activity in the anterior cingular and medial pre-frontal cortices.

Both of these are thought to be involved in emotion processing – specifically the conscious experience of internal emotional states.

Further, these areas are thought to regulate the expression of emotion as well as inhibit excessive emotion.

Berthoz et al.’s (2002) study compared a group of males who were found to be high on an alexithymia scale with those who were low on the scale.

Participants viewed images designed to illicit positive and negative affective states while their brains were scanned.

The results showed differences in the anterior cingular and mediofrontal cortices but not in areas involved in lower levels of processing.

Berthoz et al. (2002) suggest that alexithymia does result from an emotion processing problem.

I would add it provides, in people exhibiting alexithymia at least, some support for the late model of appraisal (discussed here).

Participants were also asked to judge the affective component of the photographs they had seen.

Here there was no difference between the groups.

This is consistent with findings that those exhibiting alexithymia are able to describe affective stimuli, but do not, in some sense, feel the emotion caused by the stimuli.

Alexithymics slower to identify emotions

Brain imaging studies seem to show a difference in the way emotions are processed in alexithymia, but how does this relate to the process model of appraisal?

Vermeulen et al. (2006) carried out three studies using behavioural measures.

In this study, participants who were high and low on ratings of alexithymia were compared using an affective priming paradigm.

This involves presenting an affective prime subliminally, in this case an angry face, followed by a word displayed liminally (consciously).

Participants have to decide on the emotional valence of the word presented to conscious awareness.

They should be quicker to respond to words which have been primed with a congruent emotion.

This is exactly what was found for low scorers on the alexithymia scale.

But, as scores on the scale increased, so the influence of the affective prime decreased.

For Vermeulen et al. (2006), this suggests that participants scoring at high levels on the alexithymia scale have a deficit in the automatic processing of emotional stimuli.

Returning to the process model of appraisal, both of these studies might suggest that those scoring high on alexithymia scales have a deficit in the automatic/associative processing of emotional cues, but not in the type of emotional processing that occurs in focal awareness.


Berthoz, S., Artiges, E., Van de Moortele, P., et al. (2002). Effect of Impaired Recognition and Expression of Emotions on Frontocingulate Cortices: An fMRI Study of Men With Alexithymia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(6), 961-967.

Linden, W., Wen, F., Paulhaus, D. L. (1994) Measuring alexithymia: reliability, validity, and prevalence. In: J. Butcher, C. Spielberger, (Eds.). Advances in Personality Assessment. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Vermeulen, N., Luminet, O., & Corneille, O. (2006). Alexithymia and the automatic processing of affective information: Evidence from the affective priming paradigm. Cognition & Emotion, 20(1), 64-91.