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How we distort time

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As a follow-up to my last post, Threats and the Perception of Time, here’s a recent article from Psychology Today:

…fear does not actually speed up our rate of perception or mental processing. Instead, it allows us to remember what we do experience in greater detail. Since our perception of time is based on the number of things we remember, fearful experiences thus seem to unfold more slowly.

Read the rest at How the Brain Stops Time at Psychology Today. Interesting stuff.

Written by Michael DeBusk

March 16th, 2010 at 1:56 am

Posted in Learning,Neuro,Time

Threats and the Perception of Time

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A co-worker and I the other day were discussing how to get hit by a train. (Never mind how we got on the subject. Conversations in hospitals can take strange turns.) I brought up something that a guy I used to know — he worked for Amtrak, and still does, I think — told me: you can’t tell how fast a train is coming at you if you’re standing in front of it. People on a track see a train coming, they think they have lots of time, but they don’t.

Then I read this article, which fleshes out the brain’s perception of time in threatening situations:

Finally, the effect might be due to the intrinsic dynamic properties of the stimulus, such that the brain estimates time based on the number of changes in an event.

Of particular relevance to the third hypothesis is the observation that looming stimuli are associated with a distorted subjective perception of time, such that their duration is perceived to be longer than it actually is. Marc Wittmann and his colleagues exploited this in their new study. They recruited 20 participants…

For more information on how to work with someone’s perception of time, go read Does time dilate during a threatening situation?

Written by Michael DeBusk

January 31st, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Time

He said he was sorry

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I always want to know when a victim of assault and/or battery is in my Emergency Department. It’s not unheard-of for an assailant to come to a hospital to try to finish the job they started. One night, a nurse called me about a woman whose live-in boyfriend had tried to run her over with his car. He’d missed, but had caught her arm with a side mirror or something.

I went to her room to chat with her, mostly to find out how likely she thought it was that he’d show. I try my best to appear “soft on the outside, hard on the inside” with victims of domestic violence because I never know what sort of generalizations they’ve made about men. I want them to know that I’m no threat to them, but that if the guy shows up, I’ll definitely be a threat to him. I found out what I needed to know, but I didn’t leave. She had the look about her of someone who wanted to talk. So I let her.

Before I go any further, you should probably see something. I got the following image from a Web page of the State’s Attorney’s Office in Harford County, Maryland. It’s a decent visual representation of the pattern that couples follow when they do the domestic violence thing.

Cycle of Violence

Essentially, things get tense over a period of time, then he beats her up. After he beats her up, he starts to think about what might happen if someone finds out, so he treats her really nice for a while. Then the whole thing starts over.

Now, this definitely isn’t politically correct, but I’ve never been accused of such atrocities as political correctness, so here we go: much of the time, when someone is a victim of a crime, it’s likely that they have participated in some way in their own victimization. That is not to say that they wanted it or asked for it or that it’s their fault in any way; it’s only to say that something they did, whether or not they realized it, contributed in some way to the problem. Most people will correct those behaviors if someone cares enough to point out the problem to them, and we NLPers know that if we interrupt a pattern it’s far more likely that we’ll get a different result.

I’ve never known a woman to say, “I stay with him because he beats me.” (There may be such women but I’ve never met one.) Usually they tell me they’re staying because they “have to”. What I think is unfortunate is when a woman does get up the courage (and other resources) required to leave the bum and then goes and hooks up with another guy who treats her the same way. It’s a pattern, and one that cries out for interruption.

The lady to whom I was speaking told me what had happened that evening, and then she told me he said he was sorry and that she was going to go back.

My first reaction was visceral. I won’t tell you what I thought, because I want this to be a reasonably friendly blog, but I imagine you can guess. But then I thought, you know, she’s talking to me about it, so she probably wants feedback.

There are three things I’ve observed about women who are in this “battered” pattern:

  • They isolate each incident of battering within its own little time capsule, and therefore never notice the pattern;
  • They have two distinct aspects of their personality — we might call them “parts” if we were so inclined — and each of those “parts” deals with one of the spokes on the above-referenced image; and
  • They don’t have “boundaries”, i.e., they allow most anyone to treat them like a doormat.

So I said to her, “He said he was sorry.” I pointed to a spot in the air right in front of her.

“Yes”, she responded.

“I’m curious. Isn’t that what he said last time?” I pointed to a spot a little to my right, her left, of the spot I had just pointed to.

It took her a second or two, but she remembered. “Yeah.”

“What about the time before that?”

“Yeah, then too.”

“And the time before that?”

With each question I’m pointing to a little spot on a horizontal line in the air in front of me, farther and farther to her left. I didn’t have to ask very many times before her face got grim and her jaw set tight. I let it sink in for a couple of heartbeats, looked off to her left, and asked, “Just how long has this been going on?”

A little angrily, she said, “…A long time.” Then, after another pause, a little quieter: “Too long.”

“You know,” I said, “I’ve noticed something about women in that situation. I’ve noticed that they talk to themselves differently depending on how the guy is treating them.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“When he’s hurting them,”, I say, holding my left hand palm-up, “they’re saying to themselves, ‘If only I’d had dinner on the table on time’ or ‘If only I hadn’t spent money on that new pair of shoes’ or whatever.” She nodded in recognition. “And when he’s saying he’s sorry,” I continued, holding my right hand palm-up, “they’re saying to themselves, ‘Oh, he’s sorry, he bought me flowers, he really loves me, he’ll never do it again.'” She nodded again in recognition. “So over here (shaking my left hand) they’re blaming themselves, and over here (shaking my right hand) they’re blaming him.” Again she agreed.

Bringing my hands together, I said, “I have no idea why these two so rarely get together and talk this thing out.”

She got quiet, as you can well imagine, and very still. I waited until I saw some signs of remembering where she was, told her I’d be around if she needed anything, and took my leave.

A few months later, I saw her again. This time, she was visiting someone who was a patient. She had to remind me who she was because I didn’t recognize her. She looked really different. Happy. At peace. I asked her how things were going.

“Good,” she said. “Really, really good.”

“How’s the guy who tried to run you over?”

“I have no idea. I haven’t talked to him since that night.”

I had to smile. She looked so incredibly good when she said that.

“Are you with anyone now?” I asked.

“Yep!” A little perk in her tone and her facial expression.

“How does he treat you?”

“Good. Really, really good. Like a queen. I’ll never again be with a guy who hurts me.”

I couldn’t have felt better.

Written by Michael DeBusk

January 18th, 2008 at 7:41 pm