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15 Psychologists Share What They Wish More People Knew About Human Behavior

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We could all stand to be more understanding when it comes to others, but with everything going on, it can be hard to spend time decoding the people around you. Here are 15 things about human behavior professionals believe everyone should know – shortcuts, ftw!

#15. The anniversary effect.

“My friend is a therapist and was explaining how the anniversary effect or anniversary reaction works. It’s usually being reminded of an unpleasant event on the anniversary of the event. It doesn’t have to be the same day, it could be seasonal.

The mind codes the trauma somehow and the trauma will be activated during that period of time.

For instance, we have a friend who was abused by her father every fall while she played soccer as a child. The father would physically/mentally/emotionally abuse her if she she didn’t play well in her soccer game. She gets uneasy around this time of year—end of August-beginning of Sept bc this is when her soccer season would start.”

#14. The Spotlight effect.

“The Spotlight effect. Basically, we all think that people pay way more attention to us then they really do, and we think that the spotlight is on us in social situations more than it really is. If you do something embarrassing and you think “oh my god everyone saw that!” It’s likely that nobody saw that and you’re fine. Everybody does this, and it applies to more situations.”

#13. Space.

“Nothing profound here, but when someone is upset do not tell them to stay calm. It will only escalate the situation. Best thing is for you to be calm, try to have a neutral facial expression and keep your speech as minimal as possible. Give the upset person space.”

#12. PTSD.

“Most people know this but I’m surprised how many don’t so….

PTSD is not something that you get from being in a war or in the military. It can come from any trauma that you endure- sexual abuse, natural disaster, emotional abuse, bullying, etc.

Also, only ~25% of people in high stress situations will develop it. (Ie, not everyone who has seen people killed in Iraq have PTSD.)

ETA- Examples of other things that can cause PTSD:

Childbirth
Ongoing medical care
Caring for the sick
(Car) Accidents
Witnessing (domestic) violence
Serving time in prison
Also, it doesn’t have to be just one occurrence. A kid watching his mother get beaten every few months by his dad could lead to it.

It doesn’t even have to happen to you. It can be something you witness or heard secondhand or even something that you think happened but didn’t as in the rare cases of false memories.”

#11. Alleviate suffering.

“Not a psychologist yet, still studying, but an old professor of mine said something my first week of uni that really stuck with me and affected how I see the field: The job of a psychologist isn’t to make people normal, it’s to alleviate suffering.

Psychology unfortunately is often used to justify hate or bigotry, by a good clinician shouldn’t shame people for being ‘abnormal’, they should do what they need to help the person improve their quality of life.”

#10. What’s familiar.

“People aren’t attracted by what’s right, they are attracted by what’s familiar.

If you think you have a shit magnet look at your parents.”

#9. Trauma bonding.

“Trauma bonding. If a partner causes you a trauma (hits you, blurs sexual consent lines, screams at you, cheats) and you don’t talk to anyone else but stay in the room long enough to calm down/allow them to comfort you, you will remember the kindness and support while your defense mechanisms will detach you from the trauma. That’s one reason why people stay in abusive relationships: they feel like the abuser has been the only one there for them through trauma, and that supersedes their feelings about the abuser being person who traumatized them.

ETA: this strengthens your attachment to a toxic person and makes separation from them its own little trauma. Also, the more often the trauma-comfort cycle repeats, the stronger the bond and the more traumatizing the separation. Just because someone comforts you after they’ve done something wrong doesn’t mean you’ll trauma bond to them: it’s whether or not they accept your reaction or force you to stay that matters.

edit 2 since this is getting popular I need to add that I’m a psychology student/therapy-goer/survivor of abuse, not a psychologist.”

#8. Validating feelings.

“Something I’ve discovered as a nurse during my time in the NICU. If someone is upset, either angry, sad, worried, whatever, telling them it’s ok to feel that way calms them down waaaaaay more than anything else you can say. Validate their feelings, don’t try to tell them how it could be worse, never use the phrase “at least” followed by anything. Tell them it’s ok to feel what ever they’re feeling.”

#7. Children absorb everything.

“I am not licensed but I have a BA in psych and have had way too many therapist appointments.

Many people don’t think that what you say around children doesn’t affect them if they’re not “old enough.” Children absorb A LOT. It doesn’t matter if they’re 7 or whatever. They’ll pick up after you. They’ll notice anything that’s going on even if they can’t TELL you so. A lot of adults will not comprehend why they have such feelings until they delve in to their past and realize the environment they grew up in.

When it comes to therapy, don’t think it’s a bad idea to “shop around.” It took me years to find a therapist that I felt I could actually open up to. Some are strictly textbook, some are off the grid, some just have charisma. You have to find who you can trust and be vulnerable to.”

#6. On power.

“Power makes you think more abstractly but also makes you see people as means to an end and lack perspective on other people’s points-of-view. Having power makes you disregard rules, take action, and behave like yourself. It also makes you pay more attention to rewards and perceive positive cues, such as attraction, where there isn’t any.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are always asshole bosses around, it’s because their brain is on power and it hasn’t brought out their best qualities. It should also make you consider how having power affects your own behaviour.”

#5. Greater well-being.

“Mortality salience. If you’re (consciously or not) reminded that you’re going to die one day before making a decision, you’re more likely to pick the option that will grant you greater wellbeing.

For example, when salient made aware of your mortality, you’re more likely to: donate to charity, make large purchases, make the most of an activity, judges are more likely to convict criminals, your world beliefs become hardened and people have a higher opinion of you from a social interaction.”

#4. Work you do yourself.

“Used to work in mental health. Now work in an adjacent field. Off the top of my head:

Therapy isn’t something done to you. There seems to be this mistaken belief that if you show up, the therapist just says some magic words, you have a breakthrough, and you don’t really have to work for it. I keep hearing from people who say “I went to therapy once, and it didn’t do anything!” Therapy is work you do yourself, and the therapist is a sort of consultant along the way. And it’s not instant.”

#3. Anger vs. Fear.

“BS in psychology here.

It’s easier to feel anger than fear. If somebody is irrationally angry, it’s likely they are afraid of something, and it’s likely they aren’t aware of the difference.

Also, the stages of grief are an accurate description of what happens after a loss—but what a lot of people don’t know is that you can bounce between them any number of times before you get to acceptance, you can get stuck in one or skip one entirely. Everybody handles it differently.”

#2. Incredibly complex.

“Nobody has the right to tell you how to feel. Emotions are incredibly complex. Your emotional reaction to an event is just as valid as the next person’s. You are allowed to not necessarily feel sad that your aunt died or whatever. You are also allowed to feel a wide range of emotions to an event. You can be happy, sad, afraid, pissed off, and confused all at once and that’s perfectly valid. Granted, depending on the cultural norms, how you express these emotions can be problematic. But your emotions you feel are yours and nobody has a right to ever tell you what you should feel in any given situation.”

#1. Listen.

“Answering for my wife who is a psychologist.

She says it’s quite easy. Listen.

Listen to what people around you are saying. Listen to how they’re saying it. Don’t have thoughts running around in your head. Don’t be thinking about your dinner.

Listen.”