The Hidden Plague that Is Threatening to Destroy Your Relationships-and How to Stop It
An invisible disease is affecting every aspect of your life. Insidious and creeping, it shapes you everyday – from the bedroom to the boardroom, from your shopping splurge, to the extra helping at your holiday dinner, to the dangerous liaison at work. It’s called emotional bullshit, and it’s encroaching on your happiness.
In Emotional Bullshit: The Hidden Plague That Is Threatening to Destroy Your Relationships – AND HOW TO STOP IT , Carl Alasko, Ph.D. sheds light on the stealth disease of Emotional BS: that is, the Toxic Trio of denial, delusion and blame that we fall back on when faced with difficult situations. These three dynamics work together to distort and manipulate truth, create a delusional reality, and shift blame when things fall apart. With the toxic trio in action, it’s all but impossible to get at the heart of the problem. The result, however, is obvious – no one can achieve happiness and fulfillment. And when used in the world of business, Emotional BS can lead to financial ruin.
In his over twenty years working with individuals, couples and families as a psychotherapist, Dr. Alasko has come to recognize the same problem underlying all his patients’ unhappiness. When confronted with an unpleasant or inconvenient reality, they fall prey to the TOXIC TRIO:
When the Toxic Trio works together, we become stuck in a cycle of emotional BS, preventing us from moving on or learning from our mistakes.
Emotional bullshit’s pervasiveness in society can be found everywhere, from rising divorce rates, weight gain, and debt, to angry outbursts at work, loss of control over our children, and a lack of fulfillment in our lives. The solution is deceptively simple: You focus on your Core Needs, which is any behavior that advances your long-term best interest, and ask yourself the Master Question—“What do I need from this situation?”. Honestly addressing the larger issue – not just in the short term – cuts the BS in every relationship: between friends, co-workers, couples, in parenting and especially in business.
Frank, concise and unapologetic, EMOTIONAL BULLSHIT sheds light on this hidden plague, and provides concrete advice to keep it from infiltrating your relationships.
THE HIDDEN PLAGUE THAT DESTROYS RELATIONSHIPS
An undetected plague is destroying millions of human relationships. And it’s spreading.
I call this plague Emotional Bullshit. It’s a psychological and emotional disease that is wreaking havoc within all our relationships, from the most private to the most public. It operates without our knowledge or consent, and its toxic effects are expanding to an unprecedented degree. Look around at the casualties:
The news is not getting better. From the bedroom to the boardroom, more people are complaining about difficulty in their relationships. It’s harder to begin one, and a lot more difficult to maintain one.
Yes, there are islands of sanity and many people do say that they are satisfied. But why are some relationships loving and fulfilling while so many others are not? How do you know when your relationship is successful?
Here’s the most important question: How can you tell if your life is permeated with the hidden disease of Emotional BS? This book will decisively answer this question.
In his best-selling Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman refers to a “spreading emotional malaise.” He contends that our ignorance about how emotions work is leading to the erosion of our happiness and life-satisfaction. Goleman proposes that truly understanding our feelings is a way to improve our relationships, both individual and collective.
And so do I. But I’m presenting an entirely new approach that goes beyond only understanding emotions. This method shows you how to stop being dominated by fear, anger, pain and anxiety—the basic feelings that run Emotional Bullshit.
I provide a workable, absolutely practical solution so you will be able to effectively slay this dragon once and forever. All your relationships—especially the one with yourself—can become profoundly happier and more fulfilling.
But more on this later. First, let’s tackle some frequently asked questions that surround Emotional BS.
But hasn’t bullshit always been with us? Is it really that harmful? As we all know, bullshit refers to deception, a distortion of truth, and manipulation of reality for a self-serving purpose—and it’s absolutely always been with us. Ever since the serpent convinced Eve to add apples to her menu, trickery has been an effective way to line things up in ones favor.
It’s an intrinsic part of human nature to exaggerate virtues and minimize defects in order to make ourselves look better. And it’s so easy to justify! We tell ourselves: what’s the harm in using a little deception to move things along?
What’s the harm? Bluntly, it doesn’t work. It’s a short-term solution that usually backfires. As a long-term strategy it always falls apart. And it certainly does not build trust.
BS can be an outright lie to hide a dangerous mistake, or a dangerous liaison. Its territory ranges from the phony compliment to gain favor, to cooking the books to gain riches. Think Enron and sub-prime mortgages.
The problem, therefore, is a matter of degree. As well as context.
However, Emotional Bullshit is so incredibly dangerous because it directly affects our relationships. The casual fib has mutated into a pervasive way of life. It’s undermining the social contract that equates well-being, security and love with the most fundamental qualities we all need: trust, honesty and responsibility. Unacknowledged until now, it’s the “stealth disease” that is at the root of what Goleman calls our emotional malaise.
How can Bullshit be Emotional? Bullshit becomes emotional when deceit and manipulation generate the powerful negative feelings of anxiety, anger, fear and pain.
When your most precious relationships are manipulated or distorted, and reality becomes twisted by deception, how do you feel? Angry? Anxious? Confused? Fearful? Inevitably your life becomes contaminated with uncertainty, you feel cheated and deceived and the natural reaction is a long list of negative emotions.
So instead of waking up to an ordinary day confident and secure about your connections to your spouse, partner, children, boss and friends, you actually begin the day confused, dispirited, and assailed by doubt. When the emotions of BS run your life, your happiness is seriously diminished, and the way ahead appears muddled and desperate.
How does Emotional BS actually work? Here’s a quick definition of how Emotional BS fills a relationship with toxic energy and negative emotions.
The three components of Emotional BS are denial, delusion and blame. I refer to them as the Toxic Trio because they always work together, always keeping us from seeing and understanding what we’re doing. Whenever they’re in action, our relationships cannot be satisfying, happy and fulfilling.
The three components express themselves in the following ways:
Result: feelings of love, respect and trust diminish, and eventually disappear altogether.
As things fall apart, our desperation intensifies. We can’t tell from which direction the denial, delusion and blame are coming from. Who’s the perpetrator? Is it she, him, them? Am I using Emotional BS on others? Worse, am I doing it to myself?
We don’t know what’s happening because the first dynamic, denial, refuses to acknowledge an essential fact. Then delusion throws up a smoke screen of distorted reality. And, of course, someone else is to blame. Personal responsibility is avoided.
At the very least, in the most benign examples of Emotional BS, something just doesn’t feel right. At worst, we’re hopelessly entangled in an impenetrable maze of denial, delusion and blame. We feel threatened and undermined, rather than supported and loved.
The negative results accumulate. The process is incremental and self-perpetuating because once we start to use the Toxic Trio, the inevitable result is a surge of the four negative emotions—anxiety, anger, pain and fear—which keep us stuck in the same seamlessly replicating process.
And because that’s all we know how to do. It’s a psychological Ponzi scheme that always requires more capital to keep from collapsing under the weight of its own deception. This cycle is deeply embedded in our lives. Ignorant of its dynamics, we’re at the mercy of repeating the same behaviors that haven’t worked it the past and will not work in the future.
That’s the hidden plague of Emotional BS at work.
For over twenty years I’ve worked with individual patients and couples as they try to understand why their relationships are filled with negative emotions. They all need the same thing: happiness and fulfillment. But all too often they’re caught in a sticky mass of frustration and blame and they don’t know how to get unstuck.
There’s Miranda, a smartly attractive professional woman who’s feeling depressed, anxious and angry. Her boyfriend just dumped her. “I’m so pissed at men who are intimidated by my success,” she says. She wonders why the men she meets aren’t as interested in personal achievement as she is. I ask how many hours she works a week. “Maybe sixty. And I travel a lot.” When I suggest this might not allow much time for a sweetheart, she bristles. “I admit my job’s very demanding, but cutting back is not an option. There’s got to be another way.” Miranda is denying the essential fact about overworking. Then she deludes herself that it’s important.
For Ted and Nanette, married over two decades, every year increases the distance between them. “We argue about everything,” Nanette says angrily. Ted replies, “So you want me to leave?” Nanette’s face shows fear. They live in an emotional desert, in which the only thing they have in common is their conviction that if only the other one would change, the parched spring of their marriage would spontaneously bubble and flow. They are both denying their personal responsibility to make meaningful changes, blaming each other for every problem.
Then there are the parents, like the over-worked attorney who brought his troubled sixteen year-old son Max into therapy because his grades were heading south. When I asked the dad what activities he liked to do with his son, he responded aggressively. “How is that relevant? The issue is Max being more responsible. Responsibility! Is that too much to ask?” He was clear about who was to blame—and it wasn’t him.
No one is intrinsically wrong. Neither Miranda nor Ted and Nanette nor Max’s father are bad or stupid people. They’re just being human and fallible, trapped in the cycle of Emotional BS. They don’t have a clue about what they truly need to build a happy, fulfilling life. Their ineffective attempts are geared to getting their short-term needs met, to getting through the day, avoiding one more argument, or repeating the same one over again. In the long run, these behaviors end up creating more misery and disconnection.
We use deception and manipulation to get what we need in the moment because, bluntly, it’s easier. Our focus on short-term gain encourages us to use denial and delusion to ignore both our emotions and long-term consequences. Then blame helps us to avoid the results. It’s expressed this way:
And don’t bother me with the facts, or the consequences.
To this end, using deception or creating a delusional reality can be useful in countless situations. These tactics take on a number of disguises. The ability of Emotional BS to shift shape and take on disguises is boundless. Some common examples:
“You really need to loosen up. It’s not that expensive and you only live once.”
Bullshit. Your partner just got another credit card and is borrowing to keep up.
“You’ve been so careful about your diet, you deserve a treat.”
Bullshit. She’s concerned about having her own treat, not your health.
“Honey, there’s nothing going on between Sandra and me. We’re just friends.”
Bullshit. You’re already having sex with her and you hope your wife won’t find out.
“That teacher had it in for me from the first day of class. There’s no way to satisfy him.”
Bullshit. Your homework’s always late and you don’t study for exams.
“With this new policy we’ll be able to provide better service.”
Bullshit. He’s laying off essential personnel to boost profits.
When we’re in hot pursuit of the immediate goal, we’re not consciously aware that we’re distorting reality, eroding trust and destroying our happiness!
What would it be like living without Emotional BS?
Imagine waking up to an ordinary day. If you’re living with another person, (spouse, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, or roommate) you awake with a feeling of solid contentment and confidence. Your first thoughts aren’t angry or anxious because what’s happening between you and this other person is clearly defined, out in the open, and understood. No one’s denying any essential facts, and you’re not using up lots of precious energy creating a delusional reality. You’re not blaming someone else for your problems, or being blamed for theirs.
Sure, you may have a concern about an unresolved problem, but because you have an honest, direct way of dealing with the problem, you’re pretty confident it will work out okay. You don’t worry about being ambushed, or about anyone’s hidden agenda.
Or, if you’re living alone, you have a definite idea of what you need to do for yourself, what has to happen in your life for you to feel happy and fulfilled.
Or, if you’re a parent, you feel confident about your parenting skills. Your connection to your child or children is loving and authentic, not based on mutual manipulation, fear of reprisal and acting out, or the pain of being ineffective.
In other words, you’re not caught up in Emotional Bullshit. Just as important, no one’s else in your home or family is either.
Living this way might sound idealistic. It’s not. Living an authentic life free of Emotional BS is absolutely do-able.
Emotional BS is flourishing now because of the “perfect storm” of cultural influences that constantly tempts us to abandon truth, honesty, fidelity and integrity. Our pace of life is not just hectic, it’s sometimes insane. Everything moves so fast that we hardly absorb one change before we’re hit with another. Multi-tasking is a national virtue.
In this hyper-speed environment, the focus on ethics is often seen as quaint. Again, think sub-prime mortgages and the housing bubble.
Manipulation has become a science that advertisers use to sell us more product. Politicians are not only free to repackage the truth, they depend on the manipulation of facts to maintain their power.
It’s harder and harder to tell what’s true. Is yesterday’s diet still valid? What’s the difference between a new scientific report and industrial spin? Will the job I just spent four years training for still be here next year?
All this uncertainty means that levels of anxiety are increasing exponentially. We live in a world that’s a fertile breeding ground for Emotional BS. And none of us are immune.
Many books address the problem of eroding relationships, disconnection and alienation. Some self-help books focus on teaching the important skill of communicating more effectively. Other books describe how to create an aura of positive energy, making yourself into a spiritual vacuum cleaner that sucks in benevolent forces. While these are worthwhile goals, they tend to not produce long-term positive results. There’s an initial flurry of excitement and success, followed by relapse and disappointment.
One reason is cited in John Gottman’s bestseller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, an excellent research-based book about couples. In it Gottman decisively debunks the myth that active listening creates happier couples. It doesn’t work because it’s too difficult to use when people are involved in an argument.
Likewise, it doesn’t help much to become more understanding of a spouse or partner’s feelings. Trying to repair a relationship with understanding is like sending a bunny rabbit against a fox. The deeply rooted and sometimes vicious tactics of Emotional BS make short work of that poor bunny.
What’s been missing is recognition of the fundamental causes, the actual dynamics at work, and a thorough, easy-to-follow method to actively stop the hidden plague of Emotional BS.
This book promises and delivers three things:
One: An in-depth exploration of Emotional BS, its various components, and how each of them works to avoid detection.
Two: A way to identify Emotional BS in all your relationships, from your most intimate connection to another person to your intimate ties with yourself.
Three: A proven method I’ve used for many years to help people find their way out of the swamp of deception and manipulation. The process shows you how to define your Core Needs, and how to use a unique program of Constructive Conflict to get those needs met, so you can permanently eradicate Emotional BS from your life.
As you learn the basics about how Emotional BS works and begin to apply even a portion of this information to your life, all your relationships will be closer, more authentic, and more fulfilling. That’s a 100% bullshit-free promise.
Emotional bullshit is a psychological stealth disease that is increasingly eroding our relationships. Emotional bullshit describes the three common dynamics that all of us use at some time or another: Denial, Delusion and Blame—the Toxic Trio. When used together, they form a toxic disease that distorts reality, destroys trust—and ruins relationships. First, Denial ignores or denies an essential fact. When a factual reality (even a minor one) is no longer acknowledged, Delusion takes over and creates a delusional alternate reality. Like all things delusional, it eventually falls apart. That’s when Blame steps in to shift the responsibility to someone or something else. Taking a few minutes to answer the following 13 questions will give you a quick but accurate idea of how much Emotional BS has crept into your life. This knowledge can save your relationship, your career, or even your life!
HOW TO ASSESS YOUR EMOTIONAL BS QUOTIENT
Answer each question with • YES • MAYBE/SOMETIMES, or • NO
1) I have a significant issue in my life that I consistently ignore, hoping that it will go away on its own. (I deny a problem exists.)
Examples: a personal health problem such as weight gain / alcohol or medication use / sexual behavior / overspending / productivity at work / building bonds with my children, etc.
2) I will push ahead with a plan, idea or behavior, ignoring the advice from others that I’m on the wrong course, or dismissing obvious signs that I’m headed for trouble.
3) I have a part of my life I keep secret, that if my spouse or friends learned about would be embarrassing—or worse. (I ignore or distort reality so I can continue a destructive behavior.)
Examples: secret addiction / spending money, shopping or gambling / sexual involvements.
4) I quickly raise my voice when I get into an argument with a spouse, partner or my children, which escalates into a worse argument, and creates distance between us.
5) I say yes to something when I don’t really want to—or know if I can actually do it. (I deny my need to realistically set limits, and therefore take care of myself.)
Examples: taking on a task over my head / going somewhere with my partner I don’t want to go / accepting another drink / agreeing to have sex / going along with another’s decision / etc.
6) I find myself overcome by emotions such as anxiety, anger, resentment, stubbornness, fear, desire, etc. (I deny my need to learn how to control my feelings.)
7) I change my story about something I did or did not do in order to make myself look better. (I create a delusional reality in which I’m always innocent.)Examples: saying I paid less for an item / or I made a phone call when I didn’t.
8) At the first sign of possible conflict, I immediately find some way to avoid a confrontation. I usually shut down completely, or withdraw.
9) I’m unable to control certain behaviors in my relationships (or life) and keep repeating them. Examples: getting involved with the same kind of person over and over / spending too much.
10) I find myself thinking about unusual or “magical” solutions to my personal problems that would immediately change my life for the better.
Examples: a financial windfall such as winning the lottery / my spouse or partner finally changes his/her attitude or lifestyle / major political or spiritual changes.
11) I quickly find someone else to blame whenever I’m accused of doing something wrong.
Example: refusing to give up my position of being right.
12) The possibility of being seen as doing something less than perfectly fills me with strong anxiety or nervousness.
Examples: doing something over and over to make sure it’s perfect / obsessing about what someone might think about my mistake / comparing myself to others
13) When something doesn’t go right for me, I feel depressed and believe that it’s happening because there’s something basically wrong with me.
Examples: blaming myself for an ordinary problem / believing that things will never get better because I don’t deserve happiness.
SCORING: • Each YES: 10 pts • Each MAYBE: 5 pts. • Each NO: Zero
15 points – MILD harm from Emotional BS
30 points – SERIOUS PROBLEM with Emotional BS
40 points – CRITICAL / LIFE-THREATENING IMPAIRMENT
WHAT TO DO
Score of 15: You need to be more aware of how Denial, Delusion and Blame are creating more Emotional BS in your life—and take conscientious steps to focus more directly on fulfilling your Core Needs.
Score of 30: You are in serious danger of losing control of your life and your goals. Your understanding of reality—and probably ethics—is compromised. You must immediately begin a rigorous focus on fulfilling your Core Needs (Part Three of the book: Emotional Bullshit and How to Stop It)
Score of 40 or above: Your life and relationships are currently in serious danger. You are holding things together only by creating an intense delusional reality. You must make immediate steps to take care of your Core Needs before problems get worse.
1) WHAT EXACTLY IS EMOTIONAL BULLSHIT?
It’s a colorful term to describe a serious problem, namely, the manipulation of truth and creation of a delusional reality.
There are three psychological dynamics that make up Emotional BS: DENIAL, DELUSION and BLAME. I call them the Toxic Trio because when they’re in action, relationships of all kinds suffer. First, DENIAL ignores or minimizes an essential fact. When an essential fact is denied or minimized, a vacuum is created. DELUSION then creates a false reality to fill the vacuum. This delusional reality takes the place of actual fact. And when things fall apart, as they must . . . BLAME moves in to shift the responsibility onto someone or something else.
Emotional BS is always about short-term gain. The mantra is: I want what I want when I want it no matter the consequences. The negative emotions of ANXIETY, ANGER, FEAR and PAIN constantly push people to find a way to achieve a short-term gain. Anxiety about the future, anger about an injustice, fear about not being loved, pain over a possible rejection. These emotions fuel the drive to deny facts and live in a delusional reality. Ergo: Emotional BS.
2) IS EMOTIONAL BS REALLY THAT PREVALENT?
It’s not an exaggeration to state that Emotional BS has reached a critical stage of destructiveness in our society. The recent economic crises is based entirely on the denial of essential facts and the creation of deluded BS Beliefs about how the economy and people function.
Here are a few common BS Beliefs that have led to serious economic and social crisis.
3) WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER EMOTIONAL BS?
Over the past twenty-plus years, as I’ve worked with clients, I always try to understand the pattern that underlies their difficulties. The pattern described above is one that I encountered time and again.
As I developed this model, I began explaining it to clients—and using it aggressively in my own life—and have found the results to be compelling and powerful. Most people truly want to find a more effective way to function in the world, and to make better decisions.
4) WHY DON’T WE REALIZE WHEN WE’RE USING EMOTIONAL BS?
For one thing, there’s a big difference between ordinary BS, a harmless exaggeration or a small fib, and the destructiveness of using Denial, Delusion and Blame. For instance, telling a friend that her coat looks just fine (when you don’t really like it) is a common episode of ordinary BS.
But it’s very difficult for us to recognize when we’re denying an essential fact because our agenda is to avoid discomfort or conflict—not to be rigorously honest with ourselves either about the truth, or our need to take care of ourselves. Therefore, it’s easier to deny an essential fact, then substitute a delusional reality.
EXAMPLE: During an ordinary argument with your partner or spouse, you raise your voice and say something slightly derogatory. Agitated, you storm out. Later, you refuse to apologize because, A) you deny the essential fact that building closeness to your partner is vital to your happiness. B) you then create a delusional reality in which you see yourself as justified in shouting. C) you blame him/her for being too sensitive, demanding or rigid. Result: Emotional BS has taken over your relationship.
5) HOW CAN WE STOP/AVOID EMOTIONAL BULLSHIT?
The antidote to Emotional BS is remarkably simple: Focus on your Core Needs. That is, what you really need to be happy and fulfilled. The definition of a Core Need is any behavior that advances your long-term best interest—as opposed to short-term gain.
The Master Question helps to bring your focus to any issue in the moment. This is: “What do I need from this situation right now?” The self-indulgent and short-term response might be acting out in anger or withdrawal. But an honest appraisal of the situation will bring forward the authentic answer. The two default answers are: 1) I need to bring this person closer. 2) I need serenity. These default answers are always valid in every situation.
CONCLUSION: People use Emotional BS because they simply don’t know how to examine any situation or decision to see if they’re denying an essential fact. Because our society deliberately distorts reality for commercial gain it’s not easy to determine what’s true and what’s a distortion. A common social example is the hype about dating the Dreamy Guy, when there’s no correlation between long-term success in relationships and the external presentation. However, a rigorous focus on your long-term goals, your Core Needs, will help dilute the impulse to settle for a short-term gain based on the Toxic Trio, denial, delusion and blame.
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