Here, I briefly talk about myself as a gateway to the idea that perhaps we should be more tactful in our use of contempt in our own lives. As for the Blog (i), sarcasm is too integral to its appeal; people know what to expect and that is fair enough.
If it wasn’t for my experiences with work and tough relationships, there would be no need to “reverse engineer”. In short, I have found that when I take the “war out of my words” that the message is more likely to be heard by those that don’t share my beliefs.
At work, which was a gun-toting, god-fearing, military-loving, and, liberal-hating kind of a place, is where I decided to take a turn from engineering to psychology. I wanted to understand why we were so different because I certainly did not fit in. I drove a Prius, hated God, loathed the military, and disliked my lunch being served to me as a “hit” of dopamine. Thank you shooting-range.
This was a company that did some “important” work like aiding and abetting the Predator (ii) for our “freedom”. Now to my point. I asked a coworker who used harsh punishment on his kids if he was aware of the psychological costs? He told me to not “reverse engineer” his technique. He analyzes electronic circuits, so why can’t he analyze himself? Because he perceived criticism.
The Four Horsemen (iii)
In my household, most everything was an argument. I wanted to understand what was in my words and style of relating that triggered others. Therapists didn’t help but the research did. I found Gottman’s empirical work on relationships to be of most value. There are four styles of relating to one another that turn arguing into fighting: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
These styles of relating to one another should be minimized in personal relationships. In fact, being on the receiving end of contempt increases stress hormones and inflammation in the body, which makes us more susceptible to physical and mental illnesses. Contempt and hostility are early warning signs that relationships are heading south.
- Contempt is when we feel that someone (or their idea) is inferior because we view them (or their idea) to have a negative characteristic, which makes them unworthy of our consideration. We show this by using body-language—mockery, eye-rolling, sneering, dismissiveness—and with how we use our words—sarcasm, patronizing, snarking, name-calling.
- Criticism is to find fault in something. Unlike contempt, it doesn’t take on a position of superiority. Even if indirect, criticisms are usually taken in a “global” way and personalized. I suppose what we do, what we have, and who we know are about us.
- Defensiveness is the result of criticism. When criticized, we don’t like the person and the message will be lost, unless they are our superiors. Instead, we make excuses for the fault and fight back, anything to feel the sting and keep our reputations.
- Stonewalling is either a deliberate or unintentional refusal to communicate and get on better terms with someone.
The War Out of Words
There is no way to take the war out of contempt as it is meant to hurt. It’s up to us to be mindful when we start feeling contemptuous towards someone and find ways to prevent it from escalating, see an example. Not surprisingly, this is what causes a bad marriage.
You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do is sit and expect me to do everything. I don’t have time to deal with another kid. Your are pathetic?”
As far as criticism, there is a way to make it less direct. If you are already at the stage of resentment and indignation, then contempt may be a few steps away and this won’t work. Otherwise, just reformat it to be in terms of a complaint instead.
- Criticism: Why do you always do it like that? I hate when you do that?
- Complaint: “I feel” hurt when you don’t wash your dishes because it creates extra work for me.
i) I am impressed with the writing at freethought blogs. We get our points across in a very colorful and pointed way. Depending on our goals, it may be too “sharp” though for some. On the other hand, studies show that when we debate, we end up only believing more strongly in what we originally believed. In other words, what is the point? Those that believe need to be entertained.
ii) The Predator was a remotely piloted aircraft by General Atomics. I am pretty sure it was in combat for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was something to be proud of, but no one would dare talk about the casualties that it left behind.
iii) The Four Horsemen is from the Apocalypse and means impending doom. It’s a metaphor for what status your marriage is in if you are using contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. It is empirically validated by the Gottmans with over 30 years worth of research.