Anger is one of my closest friends


20130513-084443.jpgIt may sound strange and it’s true. Anger is a huge part of who I am, it is part of what has got to where I am and what keeps me happy each and every day. How can that be true? Because Anger and I have a relationship that is built on awareness, trust and mutual respect.

There is so much written that ‘sensationalises’ this emotion and some of the destructive actions and outcomes that can be created by it.

By the way, if you are yet to do so, please read a previous post titled ‘No one puts emotions in a corner’ as that helps with the definition of destructive.

When I work with individuals and groups they often talk about how Anger is a negative emotion and they wish that they didn’t feel it.

My view is completely the opposite. I need it. I will even go so…

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The Sociopath Enigma



We love Sociopaths.  With an almost ghoulish glee we watch the latest dramas broadcast for that thrill of the unknown or unknowable, the darker side of human nature.  Being the observer without being involved.  You only have to look at the shows that are so popular:  Dexter, Bones, NCIS, CSI, Wire in the Blood and many more.  All of them having appearances by, or headlining the psychopath.  The movies are there to tantalize too; Hannibal or American Pscyho.

If you believed everything you saw on television you would think that all Sociopaths are violent criminal masterminds with blood on their hands.  The actual fact is that most people with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (The clinical diagnosis that includes the Sociopath and the Narcissist) would demonstrate no overt violence.  A good majority of them never draw attention to themselves in any negative light.

In the most simple terms, a sociopath has a lack of  conscience.  There is no, or little, emotional connection to those around them, or the world at large.  The connections they make are about personal gain, or “winning the game”.

If every person suffering from ASPD was imprisoned for a violent crime, our prisons would be bursting at the seams.  Consider that one in twenty-five people classifies as having enough of the indicators to be classed a sociopath.  Based on a total UK population of  58 and a half million people, 4% of those are Sociopaths; That is a total of 2,340,000.  Of course it is not all doom and gloom.  That means that 96% of people are not Sociopaths.

The tricky thing when picking out the Sociopath is that their rules are not our rules and their triggers are not our triggers.  We tend to see our world very much in shades of our own.  We measure other people’s behavior on how we think we would act in the same situation.  Quite often the person devoid of any conscience will think very differently about goals, perspectives and cares little for the opinions of others.

The catch is that you can never be sure that you are in the presence of a sociopath, because they look just like everyone else.  They don’t have a t-shirt proclaiming their lack of conscience and they don’t have to let you know by any law.  The sociopath has two very powerful weapons in their arsenal.   The first is the superficial charm.  They can be very engaging people, stand out from the crowd.  They can be the sort of person you meet and feel like you have known them for years.  Paul Ekman himself once said that he would know a sociopath straight away, because he would want to invite them to dinner within five minutes of being introduced.  For most, the sociopath would appear to be “such a lovely person”.  The sociopath is a manipulator with such Machiavellian ability that even when you suspect that something isn’t right, they will have you doubting yourself.

I have been in direct contact with a sociopath, who to this day is probably unaware of this fact.  Let us call him A.  A never really seemed to want much out of life.  But the idea of working for a living was something that just didn’t seem to fit with the life style that he wanted.  He would like to spend his days pottering about the house about a hobby or just watching television.  He had lots of acquaintances, indeed he seemed to develop new ones on a weekly basis, and they were always ready to offer a hand out to get him through when he was struggling.   He claimed depression and this was the reason that he was unable to work, and oh how he wished he could be better so that he could get on with his life.  A had a partner, let’s call him S.  S doted on A.  He would do just about anything for him and was always there when he was needed. Despite this A still managed to develop these friendships that turned out to be so much more.  When S became aware of these assignations, he was told by A that there was nothing to them, and it was just idle gossip from people who wanted to hurt A.  A would often say how pathetic he felt and how depressed.

This is the key to the second weapon that the sociopath uses, and the most powerful.  They use our pity against us.  They make us feel sorry for them.  They manipulate the words and how they feel so that our heart goes out to them.  A performed this feat regularly and potently.

We have since parted ways and had I known then what I know now I would never have got into a situation like that.  The one person I do feel sorry for in all of this is S.  S probably had no clue that he was simply a meal ticket.  When S and A split, S was probably made to feel that it was all his fault, that there was something he had done to make the break up happen.  In reality S was no longer any use to A and had been cast aside.

The sociopath uses our very nature against us. They know far better how we work than we do and they use our compassion and conscience as a weapon against us to further their own chances of “winning the game.”

The American Psychiatric Association states that someone should be classed as a Sociopath of they have at least 3 of the following seven characteristics:

Failure to conform to social norms.

Deceitfulness and Manipulation

Impulsive and failure to plan ahead

Irritability and Aggressiveness

Reckless disregard for the safety of oneself or others

Consistent irresponsibility

Lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.

Without doubt A had 6 of those seven characteristics.


Even today I still look back on the situation as it was and think that I should have known better.  But the fact of the matter is, that even if I had, A would have manipulated the situation to make me doubt myself, even with all my natural instincts.  Key to that fact is that the sociopath having no conscience would not show remorse or guilt for any of their actions.  One of the most valuable factors in detecting deception.  Risk of discovery for the Sociopath is also reduced.  By experience they know they can talk themselves out of a situation, so even if they are caught out, they will have you doubting your own ideas.



Reflection through Refraction

Paul Ekman makes much of the refractory period of any emotion.  It is quite important to consider this when dealing with challenging ideas and emotions.

Sometimes, rather than go wading into a situation it is advisable to take a step back and let the refractory period complete and move toward reflection.  There is no guideline for how long the refractory period is, and don’t forget that sometimes an emotional event can result in a prolonged mood.  Some people hold onto their emotions long and some realise almost immediately what they are feeling and deal with any unpleasant situations quickly.

Commonly you notice the refractory period with situations around Anger, Fear and Happiness; though of course any emotion could have a refractory period.

First of all, what is it? Refraction of emotion is where you are absorbed by the emotion you are feeling.  Usually because it has become very strong or heightened.  During this time we only tend to accept emotional input that further increases that emotional state.  Imagine that Anger is a red light.  The refractory period would be like wearing glasses with red lenses that only let red light in.  Someone suffering from Anger and in the refractory state being faced by someone trying to calm them would only find this more irritating and further increasing that anger.

Mood can have a big impact too.  Looking again at Anger the situation can build up over a period of time and sometimes once that glass is full it takes just the most minor of events to cause that glass to overflow causing an almost irrational explosion of emotion.  You wake in the morning to find you have overslept, your journey to work is prolonged with traffic jams and people driving without consideration.  You get into the office and find a lot of outstanding work.  Whilst trying your best to get on you have more “urgent” work dumped on you desk.  All these things are building up your anger and frustration and as you are not finding an outlet for these you are approaching your flash point.  Finally, someone makes an off-hand comment that just sends you over the edge and you send out an angry backlash.  You have now entered the refractory period.  From this point forward you are only going to react to further situations that provoke your anger.  People’s attempt at levity would only annoy you more.

Moving on in time, you have had a cup of tea and sat quietly for a few minutes.  Already you are starting to feel calmer.  The flash point you have reached has allowed you to vent all the frustration that you have built up during the day.  You are no in the reflection period.  It is as this point that you look at how you reacted and realise that it may have been irrational.  You are now ready to accept other emotional input.  This is the time most people realise that they need to offer an apology for their behaviour.

Perhaps of all things this is a lesson to ourselves that we should accept our emotions, even the ones that are considered “negative”.  If we release our anger and frustration appropriately at the time of the event, we are much more likely to avoid hitting the flash point.  Other people are more likely to be accepting of an appropriate level of anger for the situation, and you are more likely to accept other emotional input to reduce that anger.

Anger is an acceptable emotion, but remember to be angry at the act and not the actor.


Smile and the world smiles with you..

As I have mentioned in a previous post, emotions are infectious, especially when we display them clearly.  There was a social expression carried out a number of years ago looking at how contagious a smile can be.    A busy Railway station concourse already fitted with CCTV was used for the experiment.  In this test three key people were asked to think about something very positive that makes them happy then to continue to think about this while walking around the concourse.  The visitors to the station were then monitored to judge what happened to them after.  As the study was not particularly scientific, it is hard to say how accurate the results were., but it was noticed that everyone who came into contact with the happy person ended up with a smile of their own.

I love the idea of this.  That just by being nice to people you, you might actually improve their day and by proxy the day of everyone else they come into contact with.  Of course the opposite would be just as effective.  Anger and frustration can be passed on in a hundred different vindictive ways.

If you are a driver you may notice this sort of behaviour in yourself.  When we are driving, for some reason some very base emotions get brought out.  Imagine that you are at a junction to a busy road, waiting to get out.  Finally a space turns up and you may your way into the flow of traffic.  You waited ages and no one saw fit to let you out.  Further down the road you see another driver in the same predicament.  The emotional response of most people at that moment is “no one let me out, why should I be any different?”

I have noticed this behaviour in myself, there is a particular junction on my daily commute that can be a bit of a pain to get out of.  However, without fail someone will let me out in to the flow of the traffic with a flash of lights and a gesture.  (A nice gesture I must point out).  You can guarantee that further down the road I would do exactly the same thing for someone else.

As I mentioned on a previous post we are a race built on community.  We are social creatures and before we communicated with words we used gestures and facial expressions to get our point across.  We still do it now though more and more we tend to rely on the words.  As a social community creature we tend to react together, empathising with our community to let them know we understand how they are feeling.  Someone showing anguish will likely be surrounded by people also showing varying degrees of sadness.  They are empathising and confirming to the suffering individual that they understand the reasons for their pain.

So how can we use this knowledge?  As I have said in the title, smile and the world smiles with you.  A smile can be heard over a phone and why do you think you are greeted with a smile on an aircraft?  A genuine smile is comforting, supportive and can even be mischievous.  A smile can light up the room.  Honey attracts more than vinegar.

It is very difficult when we are angry, frustrated or disappointed to get out of that refractory period associated with the emotion, as a result they tend to pass it around.   If we took time to give pause, take a breath and smile; things might just improve.  The physical act of smiling does actually release endorphins.   Whether your smile is caused by genuine amusement or a constructed effort, the effects would be the same.  Even the contemptuous smile can give its own little buzz.

Next time you find the world is working against you, and lets face it, we all have days like that, smile in the face of adversity.  You will feel better for it, and thanks to our community empathy, you might get some help with those barriers that are causing the issues.


Roll up – Roll up!

“There is something that you are not telling me”

How can you tell if there is something more that someone wants to add, but for some reason they are “holding their tongue”.  There are various ways and these can change depending on cultural background. But I am going to look at a couple of the more common ones.

A fair description of what goes on is what I have already said, holding your tongue.  When you are looking for clues to deception it is not always about telling a direct lie, sometimes deception can be accomplished by omission of information.  This can often be more difficult to spot.

Holding the tongue between the teeth is a signal that someone is trying to resist the temptation to say something, just as is the cheek bite.  Remember though, you may not be sure what the information being held back is.  It may not be a lie as such, there may be no intention of deceit.  They may be holding back on something they feel personally embarrassed or ashamed about.  We must also consider baseline.  This may be a normal operating procedure for them. Maybe they have a sore tongue, maybe they have dry lips.  Only by knowing what is usual, can you see what is unusual.

The other holding sign is the lip roll.  Rolling the lips inwards between the teeth or pressing the lips together so that the darker lip area disappears.  This is a really good indicator that someone is trying to hold back on saying something.  Consider other factors along side.  Nothing happens in isolation, you will need to look at the other signs at the same time.   Rolling the lips with a lowered brown and raised lower eyelid is closer to a sign of anger.  You can almost guarantee that someone is holding in their anger.

You have to consider many options when people don’t want to tell you something.  Don’t assume that there is a vindictive or deceptive reason for doing so.  Perhaps they are considering the impact of what they might say and sparing the feelings of those around them.

To make an assumption on what you see is inviting error.  Dr. Ekman called this the Othello Error.  Making an assumption that what you see means something specific rather than looking at the alternative possibilities.

The Truth

Terry Pratchett stated in his book ‘The Truth’, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has its boots on!”

From our earliest years, right from the moment we start to communicate (from as young as 6 months old it is believed) we develop the ability to deceive.  There are so many reasons to lie:  to protect ourselves, to protect others, for some personal gain or to spare someone’s feelings.  But is there ever a reason that a lie could be justified?  Could the motives for the lie excuse the lie itself? And can we always be sure someone is telling the truth?

Firstly, let us remember one of the key tenets of the lie catcher:  There is no single indicator for a lie.  What you do get are hints and pointers that something might not be quite right, what Dr Ekman calls ‘hotspots’.  Individually these do not indicate a lie, merely that there is something happening that justifies a further investigation.  When you put these hotspots together you get a clearer picture that something is leaking out that they may be trying to keep hidden.  Again this may not be a lie, just something they don’t specifically want you to know.

Lies contain thoughts and feelings, but in order to make a lie work a lot of thought needs to take place.  This extra work is often called cognitive load; when your mind is heavily focussed on thinking, feeling starts to show through, and the feelings shown may not match the story being told.  This is emotional leakage.  The more consequential the lie, the more likely you are to leak information.

Paul Ekman tried a number of experiments around lying and detecting lies.  How people lie and looking for that holy grail of a sign of lying.   Needless to say he didn’t find his single indicator, but did find some other interesting facts.   His experiments initially were flawed, he realised quickly that people being asked to tell a lie in a lab setting had no consequence to their lie and as such were more difficult to detect.

When a lie has no consequence to it or a risk in its discovery, the emotional load is reduced.  The makes is much harder to spot.  The risk could be personal such as a loss of liberty or freedom, a risk to health or even personal gain.  If a lie doesn’t matter it may not show unless someone’s own personal moral compass is set in such a way that lies are considered taboo.

In order to increase the tension in the situation Dr. Ekman added some factors to the test.  He offered financial reward if they could successfully get a lie past him.  He left his students in a room with an envelope that contained a sum of money.  He told them that they could take the money or leave it.  If they took the money they would have to convince him that they hadn’t.  If they were successful they would get to keep the cash.  Secondly he also told them at the start of their interview that he would be able to tell when they were lying and he has never failed.  He had just increased the apprehension about being caught and there was a financial risk in place.   Suddenly the emotional leakage increased and the lies became significantly more obvious.

To detect a lie you increase the chances when there is some risk to the liar.

People also find it more difficult to lie convincingly if they have an emotional connection to the subject of the lie.  Dr. Ekman further emphasised this with another experiment with another study group.  The group was told to describe a pleasant scene that they saw on a film.  Half of the group were shown a film of flowers and gardens and asked to describe what they saw.  The second group was shown a film of a rather involved surgical procedure but were still asked to describe a scene of flowers and gardens.

In the experiment nearly all the people asked to lie were spotted.  They all leaked a very fast, subtle expression of disgust despite their more over demeanour of happiness.

We know that someone who feels no emotional connection to the subject and fears no consequence of being discovered is more likely to escape their lie being discovered.  This is also one of the failings of the lie detector test or as it is more properly known the Polygraph.  Lie detector itself is a misnomer as it does not detect lies.  What it does measure are changes in the Autonomous Nervous System.  Heart rate, body temperature, respiration and perspiration.  All of these are signs of Emotional Arousal, not lies. Fear of being discovered and fear of being disbelieved look exactly the same.  Excitement and fear look very similar to the polygraph.  The advantage of the human over any machine so far created is we can determine the emotion being felt and probe appropriately.

Some people say that the eyes are a good sign of a liar, that they will avert their eyes from you while they are lying.  Others maintain that a liar is more likely to hold your gaze to see if a lie has been believed.  At the moment there have been no confirmed studies that prove one way or the other, regardless of what the body language books tell you.

There are also other theories that rubbing the nose is a sign of a lie.  Again not strictly true.  The nose contains erectile tissue that expands when extra blood flows to it.  This happens during moment of emotional arousal causing it to tingle.  The key here is emotional arousal not lie. and you need to understand what emotions are causing this any why.

A lot of body language books put great store in illustrators and manipulators.  Illustrators are the visual punctuations to verbal statements.  The visual way of exclaiming and underlining.  Think back to the film footage of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.  He used a lot of illustrators.   When speaking from memory or something you passionately believe in illustrators tend to be visible.  When cognitive load increased illustrators tend to decrease.  Again not necessarily a sign of a lie, just that a lot of though it going on.

Manipulators are the comforting gestures.  Many exponents of body language cite these as reliable signs that someone is uncomfortable.  Yes they do appear more with discomfort; however, they are very easily controlled and suspended.  They can be reduced with very little effort.

A lie can sometimes be very difficult to spot because as Sir Terry said, it can get around the world before it has its boots on.  Detecting a lie can take time and patience compounded by the fact that most of us are biased to accept what we are told as truth.