Friday, July 29, 2016

Borderline Personality Disorder: The Doll People

Have you ever encountered someone who seems to fit in with a group perfectly? As you get to know them better, do you find that they seem to mesh well with another, very different group? Does the person seem to abandon projects and relationships after a while? Do they pick up the relationships sometimes as if nothing really happened in between? Do they seem to expect you to be there for them any time they call? These are some of the trademark characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder: a pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity. (DSM-IV) This is part of the Cluster B grouping of personality disorders, which appear as dramatic, emotional, and/or erratic behavior. Included in this group are also Antisocial, Histrionic, and Narcissistic Personality Disorders.

Many individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder appear to be fully-functioning, especially in social settings. This is mostly due to their need for social interaction and approval and a deep fear of abandonment. They may begin a relationship (friendship or romance) intensely and seem to invest a lot of time and effort into it. However, after a while, they may abandon the relationship in pursuit of a new one. Once the new relationship wanes for them, they may either seek another relationship or attempt to rekindle a recent one. However, Borderline individuals are not very good at maintaining long-term relationships. They expect others to do all the work without realizing that this is their expectation.

Most fully-functioning individuals understand that maintaining a relationship requires both parties to keep the lines of communication open, both parties to make an effort to keep in touch. A Borderline individual usually makes no effort to contact "old" relationships unless they are desperate for some kind of contact from anyone because their current relationships are not meeting their needs. This is why I refer to them as the "doll people". They seem to "put you on a shelf" when they don't need you and expect you to stay in place just in case they need you again. Fully-functioning individuals understand that others do have lives outside of their relationships. Fully-functioning individuals understand that if another person is not instantly available it is not necessarily a personal affront but simply the other person being busy. A Borderline individual does not seem to be able to grasp this concept and they may become very upset if you are not readily available when they want to interact with you.

Another characteristic of Borderline Personality disorder is the intensity with which they begin a project or hobby. They may seem to be consumed by the project, and any social interaction surrounding the new activity such as online forums or local interest clubs. However, their intense interest will quickly fall to the wayside, not necessarily because something else comes along but because they are not capable of maintaining the intensity of interest for extended periods of time. This sprinting of interest also extends to potentially harmful behaviors like over-spending, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, alcohol consumption, overeating, gambling, or reckless driving. The plus side is that their extreme interests in these detrimental behaviors will be short-lived. The down side is that some damage may already be experienced before the disinterest occurs.

Borderline individuals may experience moments of intense dissatisfaction and disinterest with life, irritability, or anxiety about abandonment. These moments do not generally last longer than a couple of days, however. The individual may also experience chronic feelings of emptiness between these episodes. Occasionally, they may have problems controlling their anger, frequently displaying intense temper tantrums or even violent fits of rage at inappropriate times. They may not always have a full grasp of the actual source of their anger, either.

They may engage in frantic or desperate behaviors to avoid real or imagined abandonment, sometimes to the extreme of "dumping" a person before they are dumped themselves. They may also engage in suicidal behavior--threats, gestures, self-mutilation--that are not necessarily related to depression or suicidal desires. Rather, these behaviors may be an attempt to pull a person into a care-giving position for the Borderline individual. The suicidal behaviors may (or may not) also be related to the Borderline individual's identity disturbance--unstable self-image or sense of self--which is where the label derives its meaning. They are "borderline" because their personality is not stabilized. It is dependent upon their relationships with others, even though they are not capable of maintaining those relationships themselves. A Borderline individual may also experience paranoia regarding another person's abandonment of them.

What makes Borderline Personality Disorder a dangerous situation is the volatility of the behavior of the individual. The unpredictability and their constant shifting of interest from intense to complete disinterest makes them mostly unpredictable. You don't always know when they may explode or abandon you because they don't know. You may feel like they are the perfect lover, husband, wife, mother, father, or friend one moment, and the next moment they drop you like a hot potato to pursue another relationship. If things don't go smoothly in that new relationship, they may call you up as if nothing really happened between you. They require a stabilizing force in their lives in order to solidify their personality, but the very nature of their personality disorder prevents them from maintaining the stable relationships.

Unless you have saint-like patience and devotion, beware the doll-people.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Midlife Crisis: Perpetually Persistent Myth

Ah, the midlife crisis! We often envision a man in his 40s, possibly pushing 50, who wakes up one morning to realize that half his life is passed. He panics in an existential crisis, bemoaning the lost youth and missed opportunities. Then he decides to try to turn back the clock by ditching his wife of 20 years and their children, dying his hair, hitting the gym every day or enrolling in extreme recreation (e.g. sky diving), trading in the family mini van for a brand new Mustang, and dating his 22-year-old secretary.

If we're being gender-equal, then perhaps we see a woman in the same age range (45-55) who decides to get some plastic surgery, dye her hair, get some piercings or tattoos, leave her husband to date the 20-year-old pool boy, and take monthly or quarterly booze cruises with her fellow mid-life crisis girl friends.

The truth of the matter is that the midlife crisis is more of a mythical excuse to behave immaturely instead of dealing with the realities of aging and adult responsibilities. Two primary psychosocial developmental theories that address this age range are Carl Jung's and Erik Erikson's. I will discuss Erik Erikson's theory in a future blog post. Most of the other developmental theories cover childhood, not any part of adulthood. Let's take a look at the original theory, the one that actually mentions the midlife crisis: Carl Jung.

Stage 1: Childhood (age 0 to 25 years). This is the dawn of life. Jung believed that human personality emerges from the Universal (i.e. collective) Unconscious at birth and returns to it at death. We spend childhood learning the ins and outs of the world and growing (emotionally, psychologically, physically) so that we have the skills and abilities to handle the requirements of adulthood.

Stage 2: Youth (age 20-38). This is the morning of life. We set out on our independent life-careers, acquiring whatever we think we need for our happiness and well-being. According to Jung, people in this life stage usually define life goals in terms of family, money, social position, and career success. Basically, this time is spent in acquiring "stuff" and focusing on personal needs.

Midlife crisis: age 37-43 years. This is what Jung called the noon of life, a time of spiritual bankruptcy. According to Jung, life ceases to have any meaning for most individuals at this stage, especially for men. [NOTE: most of Carl Jung's patients were affluent men in the post-Victorian era.] At this point in life, individuals begin to focus on their transpersonal needs--tenderness and caring in families, intimate friendships and challenging companions, moments of deep conversation and quiet intimacy, appreciation of nature.
Jung did propose a "midlife crisis" of sorts for women of this age as well. Unlike men, however, he hypothesized that women spend their Youth concentrating on meeting the needs of others, enjoying intimate conversations with other women, and enjoying nature and spirituality. During midlife, they devote their time and efforts to new career goals outside of their nurturing role. In other words, for Carl Jung women and men switch their life focus during this Noon of life.

Stage 3: Maturity (age 42-69). The afternoon of life, this is the time in which our focus shifts from getting "stuff" to devoting our efforts toward suprapersonal values, developing our relationships with others. People see their grown children as worthy of mutual respect and friendship. They spend more time sharing activities with their spouse, going on vacations, visiting friends and relatives. This is also a time in which an individual becomes his/her own person. They finish deciphering who they want to be and pursue their own non-material needs and express their own values.

Stage 4: Old Age (retirement to death). This is the evening of life, a time when a person accepts the waning of their years with grace and no regrets. They prepare to reemerge into the Universal Unconscious, to add their personal life experiences to the collective unconscious so that it can become fodder for future generations. This is a time for the aged to attempt to pass on their wisdom to future generations, though chances are pretty good that the youth aren't listening.

So, while Carl Jung did take it for granted that the majority of men in their late 30s to early 40s would experience some sort of midlife crisis, he saw it as more of a turning point to realign priorities from youthful selfish materialism to mature wisdom of spiritual growth and social relationships. This is not a time to try to turn back the clock, as is the typical scenario for what we expect of a midlife crisis according to modern media. The fact is that even what we usually think of as a midlife crisis (see the examples above) is pretty rare. Most individuals in middle adulthood transition fairly well from their youthful days into mature responsibilities. It is primarily persons suffering from some form of psychological malady--depression, personality disorders, anxiety disorders--who behave so irrationally. Aging is a part of life. Many of us accept it for what it is. We maintain the positive aspects of youth--optimism, enthusiasm, curiosity--and supplement them with the new benefits of maturity--nurturing, responsibility, forward-thinking.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What's Your Purpose? Goal v. Objective, Mission v. Vision

It is good for our psychological well-being to have direction and purpose in life. Social interactions of any kind (business, friendship, courtship, etc.) also have more substance when there is meaning behind the activities. This being said, I occasionally come across someone who confuses "goal" and "objective" or who uses them interchangeably. There are a couple of distinct differences between these two concepts. In order to round out the organizational directives, I also included the differences between a mission statement and a vision statement. So, let's take a look at these ideas and perhaps understand why they are confused so often.

Objective: something that one's actions or efforts are intended to attain or accomplish. On the surface, I can almost see why someone would treat an objective as a goal. However, an objective is more of an end result, kind of like a destination that you will eventually get to, but you're not really in a rush to get there. It's an "I'll know it when I see it" type of thing. Examples of objectives include:
  • being the best kazoo player on the west coast
  • owning your own home with a swimming pool and garage
  • learning a new language
  • being able to recite the US Declaration of Independence from memory
Notice that these examples are fairly vague. It doesn't matter how or when they are accomplished, only that they are ultimately achieved.

Goal: the result of achievement toward which effort is directed. The goal is SMART--specific, measurable, actionable, and (most importantly) time-limited. Objectives can easily be converted into goals with some important tweaking. For example, "learning a new language" becomes a goal when we
a) make it specific--Learn to speak and read French
b) make it measurable--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency
c) make it actionable--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency by taking online French language classes
d) make it time-limited--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency withing 6 months by taking online French language classes

Although the last sentence may seem cumbersome, it is an ideal goal statement because it gives the individual (and anyone else) the ability to determine the progress made toward goal accomplishment. It also allows for adjustments to be made if the progress seems to be faster or slower than originally anticipated. There should be fewer questions about how the goal will be achieved and whether it can be met. Too often have I seen individuals state "goals" when they are really identifying their objectives. Objectives tend to be ongoing, whereas goals have an identifiable end.

Vision Statement: the declaration of an organization's objectives and purpose for existence. The vision statement is usually a broad, sweeping statement of why the organization exists and how the organization fits into the larger realm of society.

Mission Statement: an official document that sets out the function, purpose, and goals of an organization. The mission statement outlines how the organization intends to achieve its vision. For example, if an organization's vision is for a brighter tomorrow, it's mission statement may include the ways in which it will bring light to the world. Let me try sculpting this a little better.

Example Vision Statement:
Hathaway Global is an organization committed to forming a brighter tomorrow. We are dedicated to ensuring that the world's population enjoys a future full of promise and we strive to provide a warm environment for our employees.
Example Mission Statement:
Hathaway Global endeavors to bring light to the world by providing quality ceramic light bulbs to low-income areas around the world. We are dedicated to using all-natural, recyclable materials that will enable us to keep costs low while ensuring a longer life-time to our products.

I admit that there is a bit of overlap in these concepts. Many organizations combine the vision and mission statement, either because they don't know any better or because they feel that only one statement is necessary. Some organizations opt for only a vision statement or only a mission statement. Some companies even include a value statement, which is even more vague than a vision statement. Many individuals have their own vision, mission, objectives, and goals. Writing and formalizing these can be a good practice, helping to give you a sense of purpose. Perhaps if more people did that, there would be fewer cases of "midlife crisis." Then again, maybe not.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Is there Such a Thing as a Sadistic Masochist?

I hear people accusing themselves and others quite often of being either a sadist or a masochist. Sometimes the terms are used correctly (on the surface, not in principle). Sometimes they are turned around or used backwards.

Sadist: An individual who derives pleasure from inflicting pain upon others. Though sadism is usually related to sexual pleasure, there is a sub-set of sadism that revolves around joy in knowing that you have caused others to suffer. Sexual sadists often begin simply--spanking, nibbling, slapping--in order to "spice up" their sexual encounters. As they progress, they may find that they have difficulty becoming aroused or achieving orgasm unless they seen true pain in the eyes of their partners. If left unchecked, a sadist, sexual or otherwise, could become addicted to the pleasure they derive from inflicting pain. This may lead them to commit unspeakable crimes or acts of torture.

Masochist: An individual who derives pleasure from receiving pain from others. Again, masochism as a psychological term primarily refers to the paraphilia--abnormal and/or unsanctioned sexual behaviors. In this case, a sexual masochist may begin with role-playing similar to the sadist, only on the receiving end of the spankings, nibbling, etc. These behaviors become a psychological condition when the masochist finds that they have difficulty becoming aroused or achieving orgasm unless they experience some form of physical pain. The severe masochist may experience irreparable harm at the hands of their partners, especially if they become involved with an unchecked sadist. The results could be devastating for the masochist and overly encouraging for the sadist. A non-sexual masochist may find that they seek pain to help them "feel alive." Masochism should not be confused with cutting or other forms of self-mutilation, as masochism involves activation of the pleasure center of the brain but cutting does not.

Cutting (self-mutilation): The act of causing physical harm, usually leaving visible scarring, to one's self. Unlike masochism, there is no sexual component to self-harm or self-mutilation. The individual does not typically experience the rush of positive endorphins that we associate with pleasure. Instead, much self-mutilation is an act of penance in which the individual feels that they have done something wrong or are not worthy of something, so they harm themselves in an attempt to atone for it. They may cut or burn themselves enough to leave a scar as a punishment and a visible reminder. Again, there is no pleasure associated with these acts, only pain.

Here are a couple things to keep in mind. A mean person is not necessarily a sadist. They may be lashing out to cover up some other feelings of insecurity. A "glutton for punishment"--someone who seems to have a hard time saying "no" or who tends to take on challenges that may go beyond their abilities--is not necessarily a masochist. They may have a need to be challenged or they may feel too insecure to turn down a request from someone. Bondage and domineering can be healthy sexual role-playing behaviors when adequate safeguards (safe words, mutual respect, time spent afterward reassuring the dominated partner of their worth) are in place. Self-harm is a serious cry for help. Although not a complete guarantee, many cutters end up attempting suicide at least once before anyone realizes that they need help. They tend to be really good at hiding the evidence of their self-mutilation so that others cannot detect the growing depression or anxiety that lead to the harmful behaviors.

As for the sadistic masochist, the two concepts cancel out each other. 
     Sadist==>"someone else"
Even with a split personality, receiving pain yourself is not causing physical pain to someone else, outside of the realms of science fiction.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Conflict Management Styles: How Do You Handle Disagreements?

As my last post was about the misunderstanding that surrounds the word "conflict," I thought I would round things out with a brief look at conflict management. I'm sure that many people understand that conflict management is the way in which an individual handles interpersonal conflict. In fact, I rarely come across anyone who misuses the term "conflict management" itself. Yet, there is a little confusion about the meaning of a couple of the typical styles of conflict management.

[Note: The majority of the following information on conflict management styles is based on Jay Hall's Conflict Management Survey: A Survey of One's Characteristic Reaction to and Handling of Conflict Between Himself and Others (The Woodlands, Texas: Telemetrics International 1969).]

Let's look at two dimensions of conflict management: 1) your concern for your own personal goals (concern for self); 2) your concern for others and/or the relationship you have with the other party with whom you have the disagreement (concern for others). We can rate a person's interest as high, moderate, or low on each of these dimensions, resulting in five basic conflict management styles.

  • Avoiding: low concern for self, low concern for others. An avoider either does not really care about the conflict and its outcome, or they do not care about the the relationship they have with the person with whom they have the conflict. When the avoider is in a lower position than the other person, the withdrawal from the conflict usually indicates fear of upsetting the individual. When the avoider is in a higher position, the withdrawal prevents the other person from being able to air their concerns. In either instance, avoidance tends to breed frustration and resentment and the conflict is very rarely resolved without some sort of emotional explosion involved. There are times, however, when avoiding a conflict may be the wisest course of action, especially when dealing with a very stubborn individual and/or when the conflict itself does not merit too much investment of time or effort because it is truly a minor disagreement.
  • Accommodating: low concern for self, high concern for others. The accommodator has a tendency to give priority to the needs and wishes of the other party. One of the downsides of accommodating, however, is that it does not foster creative thinking and effective solutions to an issue at hand. By bowing to the wishes of another, an accommodator may be short-changing themselves and their ability to effectively solve problems. In addition, the other person may be blinded by their own ideas to the solution to the disagreement, which they take to be wholly valid because no one is arguing with them, that they may miss some crucial data that would help them make a better decision. Resentment and a feeling of martyrdom may arise in the accommodator if this conflict management style is used to excess. This technique is fine, though, when the accommodator truly has not strong preferences as to the resolution or if they truly believe the other person is correct.
  • Compromising: moderate concern for self, moderate concern for others. This is the conflict management style term that has a tendency to be misused. Many individuals believe that a compromise is the win-win scenario. True, it does tend to represent a middle ground in which the needs and desires of both parties are taken into consideration. However, the resolution to the conflict results in a win/lose-win/lose scenario. In order for both parties to win something, they must also be willing to lose or concede something else to the other person. Both parties walk away with some measure of contribution to the solution to their conflict, but at an ego price that may be small or large, depending upon how far they were willing to go toward satisfying the other person. While compromise is a better solution than either one individual winning at the complete expense of another, there is still a more beneficial conflict management style that allows both parties to save face.
  • Competing: high concern for self, low concern for others. This is another term that sometimes gets thrown around a lot in many different contexts. In the realm of conflict management, there is nothing friendly about a competitor. Like accommodating, competing stifles the generation of creative solutions to the interpersonal conflict. This style has a tendency to lead to tension, resentment, and hostility between parties and these feelings may also leach out toward others in the environment. A person's need to always "win" an argument turns people away from engaging in what would otherwise have been fruitful conversations because no other ideas are allowed to be discussed. The competing conflict management style may prove beneficial in an instance in which the individual truly is the intellectual authority on a subject and the other parties involved have no real idea as to viable solutions. This style is also typically used when the relationship between the disagreeing parties is not vital or important and/or the necessity to accomplish a specific goal outweighs personal feelings.
  • Collaborating: high concern for self, high concern for others. This final conflict management style is the true win-win scenario. In this instance, both parties work toward a solution to their conflict that is satisfying to everyone involved. Users of this style tend to view conflict as a mutual problem to be solved and they encourage openness and honesty with each other so that a mutually beneficial resolution can be reached. Ideas may be criticized as the parties seek to find a maximally, and mutually, satisfying solution, but the persons involved are not criticized. Collaboration is the ideal method of conflict resolution. However, it is not used quite as often as compromising in part because it is difficult for individuals to set aside personal differences when involved in an interpersonal conflict. For this method to work, both parties have to concentrate on the empirical problem at hand, leaving out their personal feelings and egos. This style is also most likely to occur when the relationship between the arguing individuals is built on mutual trust.
For those of you who are visual, here is a chart that helps to summarize these five conflict management styles.

All individuals have a preferred conflict management style. For example, I admittedly lean toward the avoider style because I don't particularly like arguments, especially ones involving very stubborn individuals. However, I do strive toward a win-win or compromise scenario if 1) I see that the other person is willing to bend, 2) the issue is very important to me, and/or 3) I recognize that not standing up for myself could lead to being bulldozed down the line. A successful conflict management strategist recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of each style, reads the situation and the other party effectively, understands their own strengths and weaknesses, recognizes and understands their own preferred conflict management style, and knows when a particular style would be more successful to finding the best solution to the problem at hand.

On a side note, I find it a fascinating exercise to try to identify the conflict management styles of politicians, especially during an election year.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Conflict: It's Not Always What You Think It Is

Many people believe interpersonal conflict is automatically a bad thing. Like many other concepts, the negativity of conflict stems mostly from a person's interpretation of it. As usual, let us begin by formally defining the term.

Interpersonal conflict: a situation in which two or more people disagree

As you can see, there does not have to be anything world-shattering in conflict. You feel that pizza is the best dinner choice and someone else feels like burgers are better. This is a conflict. One person thinks Ben Afleck was the best Batman, another believes it was Adam West. This is an interpersonal conflict. Misunderstandings, incompatible goals, differing values and beliefs, and unaligned attitudes can all lead to some kind of conflict between individuals, sometimes groups.

There are many types of conflict, each of which may determine not only how we deal with the particular disagreement, but also how potentially negative or positive it may be.

  • Pseudoconflict: a false conflict from game playing or joking. The key is being able to recognize whether or not it is a "game" and not allowing yourself to be drawn in or baited, especially if you have no desire to argue over non-substantial things.
  • Fact-based conflict: a disagreement about factual issues, such as who was the prime minister of Canada in 1973 or the life-time batting average of Babe Ruth. To reduce the negativity surrounding this kind of conflict, check the facts and do not dwell on who was right or who was wrong.
  • Policy conflict: a disagreement about how to handle a situation. This is a type of conflict that has the potential to get very personal, very quickly. Success in handling this conflict depends on finding a solution that addresses the problem itself while keeping in mind the feelings of the parties involved.
  • Value-based conflict: a disagreement that occurs when people hold opposing values on things such as religion, politics, social and aesthetic issues. These types of conflict are very personal because sometimes the argument is about something that is core to a person's identity. If the issues cannot be resolved, if the argument is not a philosophical one but one that involves the necessity of action (e.g. passing a law that might infringe on personal freedoms in order to increase public safety), the situation has the potential to become particularly heated. In your own personal life, you can maintain your relationship with an individual with whom you have a value-based conflict by taking turns obliging each other's views and beliefs. In general, we tend to form relationships with people who have similar values as ourselves in order to minimize the possibility of encountering these conflicts.
  • Ego-based conflict: a disagreement in which the emphasis is on winning over resolving the actual conflict. This may have started as one of the previously mentioned types of conflict above, but one or both of the parties view the outcome as a measure of self-worth. They feel as if they are putting their reputation on the line. At that point winning becomes more important than the issue itself. It is important to recognize early on when any disagreement becomes ego-based. Moving it back to a content level may help diffuse the personal nature of the conflict so that the parties involved do not take winning or losing as a personal attack.

Interpersonal conflict does not have to be a negative event, nor does it necessarily have to lead to the end of a relationship. If we consistently view conflict negatively, then we will have a tendency to avoid dealing with disagreements. If the relationship is unimportant or the cost of confrontation is too high, then this might be an acceptable option. However, if this is an important relationship, then dealing constructively with conflict can actually generate beneficial outcomes. Issues that are aired out and resolved remove psychological burdens and anxieties. A problem is nearly impossible to solve if it is not actually addressed. Dealing with a disagreement can also end chronic sources of discontent in a relationship. If something is bothering you, then talking about it with the individual will shed light on the situation that they may not even know existed until you said something. A conflict can also bring new insights by highlight divergent viewpoints, allowing you to see the issue at hand from a fresh perspective.

The best way to deal constructively with interpersonal conflict is to communicate openly and honestly and focus on specific details rather than general statements about the other person. Avoid the use of loaded, or trigger, words and use tact and grace. Approach the disagreement positively, as an opportunity to see differences with a goal to resolving the issue in a way that will allow all parties to keep their egos intact. My next post will take a look at conflict management styles that may or may not be successful, depending upon the type of conflict and one's personal preference for dealing with disagreements.

Friday, November 7, 2014

So Many Ways to Communicate, Many Unintentional

Most people think communication is using written and/or spoken language. My daughter actually almost got into an argument with someone at school over what constituted a language. [More on conflict in a future post]. Said classmate tried to argue that besides spoken word and written word, the only other language was sign language because it had the word in its nomenclature. The argument was that there was no such thing as a computer language since we don't speak it. My daughter was right in her frustration, as there is so much more to language and communication than we typically take for granted. For argument's sake, let's start with defining language, since I brought it up at the beginning of this post.

Language: any system of formalized symbols, signs, sounds, gestures, or the like used or conceived as a means of communicating thought, emotion, etc. As you can see, this leaves the idea of language wide open, especially as we are not specifying that the communication has to occur between any particular species, organic or otherwise. What then, you may ask, is communication? Let's go ahead and define that as well before we start picking it apart and expanding some horizons.

Communication: the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. Remember that "signs" can take the form of any of our five senses--sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. I particularly like the biological definition of communication: activity by one organism that changes or has the potential to change the behavior of other organisms. Isn't that the primary purpose of most of our communication? We share ideas and information because we want others to learn about them and perhaps to see the world from our perspective. That's effecting change in behavior.

To make things a little easier to digest, I'm going to use the standard separation of communication into two broad categories: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal means "having to do with words," so that means written languages actually fall under verbal communication. There are several parts that are important to all forms of communication, but especially to verbal communication. I think it's important to pull these out into the open before we talk about verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Message: this is the actual point of the communication; the thoughts, ideas, etc. that is being transmitted from one party to another. It is often subject to interpretation not only on the part of the receiver, but also on the part of the sender. All information in our brains is stored in the form of electrical/chemical signals similar to the 1s and 0s of computer language. Those don't translate directly from one person to another, so we have to take those signals and transfer them into a format that is easily (well, more easily at least) shared.
  • Sender: the individual who initiates the communication or message. After seeing the section on nonverbal communication, you will see that an individual can send a message without fully realizing it. A sender has to encode their idea in a form that can be transmitted. Sometimes communication issues occur on the sender's end when the encoding process is flawed. Have you ever had an image or thought in your mind but couldn't find the words to express it? That would be an example of a potential sender/encoding error.
  • Receiver: the individual who is the intended (or unintended) target of the message. Sometimes the receiver is not whom we wanted to get the message, but rather someone who intercepts it or comes upon it in passing. The receiver has to decode the information given to them by the sender, putting it back into a form that the brain can process (those electrical/chemical 1s and 0s). Sometimes we have issues with our understanding of the encoded information. Maybe we didn't hear something the way it was meant to be said or perhaps we misunderstood the intended meaning--sarcasm is a perfect of example of such an issue. In this case, the miscommunication error could be do to a decoding issue.
  • Channel: the sensory pathway used to transmit the message. The primary channels of communication for humans are auditory (sound) and visual (like the written word or hand signals). Believe it or not, you can also send information with the other three senses. When someone walks into a room doused in perfume, they may be conveying the idea that they REALLY want to be noticed (or that they don't care about others around them). What kind of message do you think is sent when someone greets you and they haven't brushed their teeth for months or bathed in weeks? Yeah, that's still a message. I'm sure the idea of touch for communication is easy for most. A punch, a hug, a kiss, a hand on the shoulder all tell mostly clear-cut messages or have the potential to do so. They are also easily, and sometimes purposefully, misinterpreted. You can even send a thought or idea with taste. When you season food just right, maybe you're trying to tell someone that you care about food preparation and/or them. If you burn the food, perhaps you're telling them that you're trying too hard, are distracted, or don't really care. As I said, each of our five senses can be used as a channel for communication.
  • Context: the environment in which the communication takes place. This can include the medium (text, advertisements, video, etc.) used as well as the social environment in which the communication occurs. For example, if a stranger were to tell you of their house burning down, then you might process that information differently than if you heard the same information coming from a close friend or relative. Another example of the impact context has on communication would be a request. Coming from a boss, a request might feel more like a command, whereas the same request from a subordinate or friend would be seen as a favor. The physical environmental setting is also important for communication. Formal settings are more conducive for one-way communication, such as a lecture or press conference. One tends to expect less personal disclosure and more factual information sharing in a formal setting. An informal setting such as a restaurant or someone's home would prime the receiver to expect either personal or trivial communications.
  • Noise: anything that hampers communication, especially through distraction. Again, all of the five senses come into play here. We typically think of distracting sounds as noise. However, visuals can easily pull our attention away from our sender (and even our receiver, hindering the encoding process). Smell and taste can be just as distracting, especially if they are sudden and unexpected intrusions to the communication process. I know it's "juvenile," but how many times has a conversation been disrupted by someone passing gas? Yeah, that's an example of multiple forms of noise. I'm sure you can think of an instance, also, in which a sudden tactile sensation draws your attention away from sending or receiving information. Maybe you suddenly got cold or hot, or perhaps something brushed up against you or you were bitten by something. These are all examples of noise.

Verbal Communication: communication imparted through the use of words, spoken or written or signed as in sign language. So, verbal communication is pretty straight-forward. Then again, where would you place coding languages such as binary? Computer languages are formalized sets of symbols that have meaning. It is arguable that these qualify under verbal communication because of the use of symbols. Mathematics is also a written language, by the way; it is considered by some to be the universal language. Although classified as part of nonverbal communication, there is a modifier to the words and symbols we use as well, known as paralanguage. I define it a little later in this post. Many of you already know that there is a difference in the meaning of a message with something as subtle as changing the emphasis from one word to another. Again, sarcasm is an excellent example of this phenomenon. 

Even without paralanguage to complicate things, verbal language can sometimes easily be misinterpreted. Each language and culture has their own unique idioms--sayings such as metaphors--that outsiders may find it difficult to grasp. Even when raised in that culture, sometimes individuals may not be fully versed in the subtle uses of certain phrases or words. *Incidentally, that was part of the inspiration for this blog in the first place; too many psychological concepts are used incorrectly and people don't understand what they are saying or hearing.* Young children or individuals who have a very literal mindset may find it difficult to understand the messages they receive from others. Also, some idioms just don't translate well from one language to another.

Nonverbal Communication: conveying messages or transmitting thoughts, ideas, and emotions without (or in addition to) the use of words and systematic languages. Nonverbal communication adds several layers of meaning to regular communication. Experts in communication fields and psychology often look at paralanguage, body language, kinesics, and proxemics to help understand the full message, unintentional or otherwise, sent and received during communication exercises. This is also the part of communication that can get you into more trouble than you thought and it is just as likely to be a sender/encoding issue as a receiver/decoding issue. Perhaps after looking at these various areas, it will become more apparent as to why nonverbal communication can sometimes be at odds with verbal communication and why sometimes others may misread your intentions.

  • Paralanguage: nonverbal elements in speech, such as intonation and speed, that may affect the meaning of an utterance; may also apply to the written word, such as the use of capital letters, italics, bold, and/or underlining to provide specific emphasis. Here's an example of the use of paralanguage with words. Read each of the following sentences to yourself, emphasizing the word in bold.
1) I love you. 
2) I love you. 
3) I love you.
As you can see, they send somewhat different meanings even though the same words are used. The first sentence, with the emphasis on "I," indicates that the speaker, above others, loves the recipient. The second sentence focuses on the love of the speaker. The last sentence may indicate that the receiver is an important object of love, if not the most important, for the sender. 
Paralanguage is often used to add that extra layer of insistence, importance, urgency, etc. that mere words do not always convey. One of the difficulties with written communication is the limitations on the use of paralanguage, and often the misuse of paralanguage indicators. I'm sure that if you've been on any social media site, or read the comments section on any online forum, or even read a significant volume of email, then you have come across an individual who seems to lack some basic understanding of typed paralanguage. The most common misuses and/or overused written paralanguage techniques I've encountered are the use of all capital letters (often understood to mean excitement or yelling) and the overabundance of smiley faces. In fact, the smiley faces have perpetuated our culture so deeply that I received quite a few assignments from my students over the years with their smileys in the form of the sideways typing [:-)]; this was when they were using regular pen and paper. It apparently never dawned on them that they could draw a regular smiley face in the normal vertical position, they were so used to typing/texting it sideways. In my experience, the misuse of all CAPS tends to occur most often with older individuals. Perhaps the caps lock button was engaged without realizing it, or they use the capital letters to make it easier to see the words. In either instance, it appears to the casual reader that the sender is either extremely emotional or uniformed in proper netiquette. 
Verbal paralanguage has its own pitfalls. Speak too slowly and the receiver may feel that you (the sender) perceive them as slow-witted. Speak too quickly and you sometimes come off as rude, too busy to care to communicate well, or that you are trying to hide something by glossing over it. Mumbling is also often interpreted as an attempt to be less than truthful or that you are not confident enough. Laughter or growling (or other angry noises) or tears can affect the message's meaning, too.

  •  Body language: messages or meaning conveyed through the use of various parts of our body, also known as kinesics. The study of kinesics includes the use of hand gestures, body posture, touch, and facial expressions. This type of nonverbal language is heavily influenced by culture and context and it is possibly the most misinterpreted of the forms of communication because it is so individualized and non-universal. Please note that much of the discussion I include here on body language is based on research with adults. Many of these conventions are thrown out the window when children are involved. Just as children develop in their understanding of verbal language over time, so too does it take time for a child to understand appropriate and inappropriate use of body language and the types of messages that can be sent with kinesics. It may also take a child a while to fully grasp the secondary message you send them through this form of non-verbal communication, so it is up to the more experienced communicator to be aware of potentials for misunderstanding and adjust accordingly.
I'm sure we are all aware of how different facial expressions can change the meaning of our words. Most people who are trying to determine if someone is lying to them will look at the speaker's face. Unfortunately, many of the "tells" that the average person believes indicate dishonesty are not that accurate. While most studies on lying show that the hardest part of the body to lie with is the face, that does not mean that our face will show a guilty conscience. The face is not as much under our conscious control as we would like to think, and lying isn't the only reason we would be nervous when confronted by someone. The human face is capable of generating more than 20,000 different expressions, but they all boil down to three distinct characteristics. 1) Are you interested in what the speaker is saying? 2) Do you have positive, negative, or neutral feelings toward the speaker and/or their message? 3) What is your level of familiarity or comfort with the speaker? For example, a smile can mean a whole lot of different things. The smiling face could mean genuine positive affect--happiness, joy, pleasure, etc.--about the message or the sender. It could also indicate a secret knowledge or inside joke. It could even indicate sarcasm. Similar messages can be conveyed with a frown. Someone frowning is not always in a bad mood; they may not necessarily be angry or depressed but perhaps they are thinking intently. Eye contact is also an important component of the facial expression portion of body language. We generally interpret prolonged eye contact as interest.
Each of the above characteristics--interest, basic affect, comfort/familiarity--also apply to body posture. In addition, body posture can indicate the relationship between the individuals involved in the communication. Having an open posture, such as standing with your hands by your side, usually indicates that you are receptive to communication and are withholding judgment; it may also tell observers that you are a subordinate of the person talking to you. A closed posture of crossed arms often means that you've made up your mind and you don't care to listen to the message because you might not like it or agree with it. It would be interesting to find out if closed postures are used more often by people of a higher status or a lower status than their communication partner. Failing to look at the speaker generally shows that you don't want to listen to what they have to say, unless you are in some eastern cultures, where maintaining prolonged direct eye contact is seen as a sign of disrespect. Leaning in, sitting down, standing, lounging, the direction you face, etc. all add more layers of meaning to what you say as a sender and what you say as a receiver of communication. 
Hand gestures are another culture-specific form of nonverbal communication that changes meaning from place to place. An insult in one culture could be a benign or meaningless gesture in another and vice versa. We as a species talk with our hands almost as much as we do with our vocal chords, and that's not counting the various forms of sign language that are out there. Hand gestures are also influenced by one's personality and cultural expectations of expression. I've known some people who couldn't talk unless their hands were moving and I've met others who rarely moved their hands at all. One has to be pretty careful of their hand usage in some areas. You never know when you might accidentally "throw" a gang sign or insult someone with a misplaced gesture. On the plus side, though, hand gestures can be very useful when giving directions or descriptions; they allow us to "draw" in the air to enhance our verbal descriptions. 
Touch conveys a lot of emotion to both speakers and listeners. For many people, the right touch could offer a world of emotional support that is too difficult to transmit with words alone. Hugs seem to solve a lot of problems (at least psychologically). Touch can also tell the person that you have no respect for them if the touch is inappropriate--wrong place, too long, too much or too little pressure--for the relationship you have. Studies show that, in general, women use touch more often than men, but also that women are the recipients of touch more often than men. Again, the use and interpretation of touch is heavily influenced by one's personality and culture.

  • Proxemics: the study of the distances used between individuals. Proxemics, also known as propinquity or interpersonal distance, is the final piece of nonverbal language that shows more about the context of the communication. There are generally 4 categories of distance, each one telling more about the relationship between the sender and receiver and about the type of communication that is expected. Note that the size of one's "personal bubble," especially the intimate and personal distances, is determined by a) their personality and personal preference for socialization and b) cultural norms regarding appropriate distances between two individuals in various situations. Other interesting modifiers include body size and status--people tend to afford larger bubbles to larger and taller people and those of higher social status. Age is also an interesting modifier. To most children under the age of 4 anyone bigger than them is fair game to be used as a cuddle bug or a jungle gym.
1) Intimate distance. Usually reserved for the most intimate relationships, such as one's children, significant other, most intimate friend. The average space for this distance is from 0"-12" but some individuals have much smaller bubbles and some have larger ones. At this close range, you can say the most with all forms of verbal and nonverbal communication. This distance is rich in information, with the ability to speak in lower tones (whispers) and see facial expressions more clearly. Touch plays a more important role at this distance than at the others. The type of information most often found in this circle tends to be much more personal--emotions, thoughts, laying out vulnerabilities--than in any other circle.
2) Personal distance. Usually reserved for one's closest friends and relatives, those who know you well but are not in the first circle. While the average distance for this bubble is 12"- 4 feet, some individuals have a bit of overlap with the intimate distance circle. At this distance, you can still speak low, but perhaps not quite at a whisper, and most people with fairly good vision can make out most of your facial expressions. You are still within arms-length of one another, so additional messages can be communicated through touch at this point. Information transmitted at this stage can include personal self-disclosure as well as less personal topics.
3) Social distance. This bubble is where you will typically find general friends and acquaintances, coworkers and customers, as well as the average passerby. With the distance being between 4'-12' on average, it becomes more difficult to rely on the more subtle nuances of communication. Vocalization needs to be louder than that afforded at the intimate and personal distances in order to be heard. Some facial expressions may go unnoticed at the increased space between sender and receiver. The use of body posture and hand gestures becomes more important to add needed emphasis to verbal communication. At this distance, one would not expect as much personal information to be divulged. Rather, most conversations in the social distance tend to be more superficial or goal-directed (business transactions, relaying data, etc.) in nature.
4) Public distance. At 12' and counting, this final bubble is rarely conducive to two-way communication. Rather, most often public distance is used by a communicator to simply pass on information to another person. It also generally occurs in more formal settings such as a presentation, lecture, or press conference. Speech needs to be clear and concise. Paralanguage can help add meaning to the words, but it must be used judiciously in order to avoid misinterpretation. Larger gestures and body poses will be needed to convey additional subtext to one's words, especially as facial expressions are not very visible to the average audience from that distance. Most of the information is formal and factual at this point.

Hopefully my expansion on these various areas of communication will help you to become a better communicator--sender AND receiver. The greatest source of frustration and the number one cause of a break in a relationship (especially divorce, according to numerous studies) is communication problems. These problems come from both the sender and the receiver. Sometimes we mince our words, sometimes we hear what we want to hear instead of what is actually said. Sometimes our nonverbal language is at odds with our verbal communication. It's not easy. Even for world-class grade-A communicators, there is always a chance that their audience will misinterpret their meaning. The key is to keep trying and to understand that sometimes we need to adapt to our audience. If I can improve my communication methods on this blog, please feel free to let me know how in the comments section.