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QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Healthful Dispositions of Personality

In psychology, Quran, Ramadaan on September 17, 2009 at 4:19 am

19 Ramadaan, 1430:

الَّذينَ يُنفِقونَ فِى السَّرّاءِ وَالضَّرّاءِ وَالكٰظِمينَ الغَيظَ وَالعافينَ عَنِ النّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ المُحسِنينَ ﴿١٣٤﴾

(134) Those who spend in prosperity and in adversity, for those who curb their anger and those who forgive people. And Allah loves the charitable

This is one of the oft-quoted verses of the Quran in Sura Al-i-Imran. In this ayah and the next, Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala describes the characteristics of those individuals for whom Paradise has been created; and there are two descriptors of this highlighted group used here and elsewhere: Muttaqeen (ayah 133) and Mohsineen (referred above). 

Three prominent characteristics have been selected here which share the common threads of mature self-control and a basic love and trust for people. Both psychological theory and individual and social psychological researches include these among the most healthful behaviors associated with the highest forms of mental functioning and optimal physical health. My wish here is to explore the psychological aspects of these traits.

Prosocial behavior, forgiveness, and anger control

Prosocial behavior may be defined as “caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them, and acting in a way that benefits others” [wikipedia]. In Islam prosocial behavior is valid only if it is fueled by pure unselfish interest in others, here represented by one of it’s noblest forms: helping others monetarily.

Forgiveness occurs when we cease to be indignated or angry with someone perceived as having offended in some way. Legally, this involves taking back the criminal charges or forgiving punishment or restitution. Psychosocially, the forgiveness should be internal – from the heart – with restoration of normal relations if it were an acquaintance. It is often accompanied by ‘forgetting’ the past offensiveness of the transgressor.

Anger is that “predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force” (DiGiueseppe & Tafrate, 2006). This definition may be modified to count situations when we decide that the other has behaved unjustly towards us or some other object we love, although we may not necessarily plan to take action.

The three traits are inter-related. Forgiveness involves eliminating anger and the more we nurture anger in us the less prosocial we will be.

Self-actualizers and Fully-functioning individuals

 

Self-actualization is a concept that was popularized by Abraham Maslow‘s theory of hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizers represent the epitome of psychological functioning and mental health and reach this high stage after having come to terms with all their lower level needs (such as basic needs for physical and emotional survival). Defining self-actualizing as “the desire for self-fulfillment”, “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming” he identified several characteristics of self-actualizing individuals. Here is a list:

  • An accurate perception of reality. Healthy persons see the world as it is, rather than as distorted by their needs and beliefs. Maslow writes, “The neurotic is not emotionally sick; he is cognitively wrong.” Unhealthy persons fit the world to fit the shapes of their fear, needs, and values.

  • A general aceptance of nature, others, and oneself.
  • Acceptance of both one’s shortcomings and strengths, but without a lot of worry about them.
  • Spontaneity, simplicity, and naturalness. Not pretentious, display their emotions honestly. But are also thoughtful and considerate of others. Can play the required social games when necessary to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, but don’t do so otherwise.
  • A focus on problems outside themselves. Commitment to their work. Dedication to work, absorption in it, satisfaction from it.
  • A need for privacy and independence. Neurotics, by contrast, are usually highly emotionally dependent on others.
  • Autonomous functioning. Able to be relatively independent of their social and physical environments.
  • “Freshness of appreciation.” Ability to appreciate experiences as if they wwere new. They tend to continue to be greatful for what they possess and can experience.
  • Some self-actualizers have many peak experiences.
  • Social interest (Alfred Adler‘s term.) Deep feelings of empathy and affection for all human being. Feeling of kinship with all people, even with other living beings.
  • Ability to maintain strong, rich relationships.
  • A democratic character structure. Self-actualizers are not authoritarian, do not want “power over” others or to be subjegated by others. Acceptance of all people regardless of class, education, ethnic differences, etc.. They don’t act superior toward anyone, but are ready wo learn from anyone. Distinguish clearly between means and ends, and also beween right and wrong. They have a clear sense of ethics, rather than being governed by expediency.
  • Have an unhostile sense of humor.
  • Creativeness. Original, inventive, and innovative in whatever their realm of life may be. Creativeness is more an attitude, an expression of psychological health, and is concerned with how we perceive and react to the world
  • Self-sufficiency and autonomy. Resistant to social pressures about how to think or act. Maintain an inner detachment, guided by themselves. But not rebellious for the sake of rebellion.
  • Apart from the secure self-reliant individuality, another prominent overarching trait evident here is a base of strong positive emotions for others in general. And it is this dimension of self-actualization, which operationally does encompass the specific emotional competencies we are discussing. 

     Carl Rogers gave a related concept of full-functioning individuals. He believes that “the core of man’s nature is essentially positive” (1961). Fully-functioning individuals represent mental health and maturity because they are open to new experiences, accept their weaknesses, trust themselves and others and are able to live authentically – that is, close to their truest basically good and creative natures. Rogers strongly believed that such kind of maturity can be achieved only in a psychologically healthy atmosphere of trust and dignity.

    In today’s culture of self-promotion, blind individualism, and exploitation, it is the noble traits of loving and forgiving others and going out of one’s way to bring a positive difference to others’ lives which can nurture such full-functioning responsible and mature citizens of the world.

    The above conclusions are indeed supported by decades of research in individual and social psychologies. I quote below some of the more recent research findings linking these traits with both psychosocial and physical health benefits.

    Prosocial behavior research

    Prosocial behavior leads to higher positive effect (Piliavin et al., 1981) and can relieve bad moods (Cialdini and Kenrick, 1976). People learn to associate such behavior to social rewards (Kenrick et al., 1979). Overtime, they are linking helping others to positive outcomes whether or not rewards were actually provided. It seems prosocial behavior can become internally rewarding. Prosocial behavior can convey a sense of personal control (Willigen, 1998) and is positively related to self-esteem (Yogev and Ronen, 1982), personal efficacy and confidence (Yates and Youniss, 1996).  Those who provide active support to their acquaintances have demonstrably higher longevity, even after taking into account other determiners of mortality rates such as demographic, personal and health characteristics (Brown et al., 2003). Brown et al. suggested that giving support enhances recovery of the cardiovascular system in negative emotions, thus affecting mortality. More socially isolated people benefit most from these effects of prosocial activity, suggesting that the effect is channelized through their increased social integration and interaction. Youth volunteers show lesser risk of drug intake, poor academic performance, or legal entanglements in later life (in Barling and Cooper, 2008  SAGE handbook of OB).

    Forgiveness research

    Lawler et al. (2004) found that both current and general levels of forgiveness were related to various health indicators including physical symptoms, medication usage, sleep quality, fatique and somatic complaints. These health benefits could be explained through spirituality, social skills, and reductions in negative affect and stress. Authors concluded that both current and general levels of forgiveness influenced health most strongly by lowering the degree of negative affects experienced.

    Positive effects of forgiveness can be explained through elimination of the hazards of unforgiveness. When we don’t forgive others we experience a horde of negative emotions such as resentment, bitterness, hatred, hostility, residual anger, and fear (Worthington et al., 2001). These emotions have strong potential to disturb both mental and physical health. Forgiveness replaces such negative affect with positive love-based emotions. Ultimately, the health effects are channelled through physiological changes.

    Forgiveness can modulate our mental health indirectly as well, through its effect on social support, interpersonal functioning, and health behaviors (Temoshok & Chandra, 2000; Worthington et al., 2001).

    Anger Control Research

    Anger is the root cause of many social problems such as crime, abuse, divorce, as well as myriad of physical and emotional health conditions. The physical and social health of the affected is itself disturbed (Graham-Bermann & Seng, 2005). A survey of around 6,ooo British families (Flouri, E., 2005) found that angry yound adults had more health problems and remained angry and dissatisfied with their life in their adulthood as well. Friedman (1991) had reported that hostile college age students had overweight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol problems, had smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and alcohol compared with the comparison group.

    On the other hand, controlling our angry feelings helps us in remaining healthy by engendering in us a sense of being in control. It encourages the positive love-based emotions of trust, acceptance, with a direct reduction in the negative and stress-causing appraisals that others are mean, selfish and exploitative (Tucker-Ladd, 2005). Instead of letting loose in anger, we learn healthier, assertive ways of expressing our negative emotions, increasing our satisfaction with self, life and the world.

    May Allah enable us to meaninfully benefit from his guidelines in the remaining Ramadaan and afterwards. Ameen

    Note: Primary Sources

    Barling, J. & Cooper, C. L. 2008. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior: Volume 1: Micro Approaches. Sage Publications. Google Books.

    Tucker-Ladd, C. E. 2006. Psychological Self-Help. The Self-Help Foundation. http://www.psychologicalselfhelp.org/

    Worthington, E. L. 2005. Handbook of Forgiveness. Brunner-Routledge. Google Books.

    Other references have been cross-taken from these primary sources.

    1. […] This cup of tea was served by: The STRUCTURE of ENTROPY […]

    2. Again, very helpful analysis. We should talk, I have some ideas that you might find interesting.

    3. My later attempt on attributions (inspired with An-Nisa 79) is closer to the spirit of observation that I’m trying to achieve. May God help me and accept my endeavor.

    4. A brilliant explanation provided MashaAllah…but there’re little confusions in my mind. It was mentioned that anger may negatively effect the prosocial acts or behaviour in day to day living… my perception about this might be wrong but i think that anger is generated and expressed in specific situations that are actually meant to cause aggressive attitude in a person but as far as prosocial act is concerned, then if someone is angry and meanwhile comes up a situation where slefless help is required by whoever is present there then anger particualry might switch to back of the person’s consciousness and a spontaneous and immediate act of help is observed….This is what i thought after reading this as i just separated the two things which you corrlated with each other….Please clarify this point and correct me !

    5. What is “positive love-based emotion” ?

    6. @Rimsha: 1. Positive affective states that are experienced in the context of positive interpersonal relationships will be called as positive love-based emotion.
      2. You are correct in observing that in certain situations, despite initial anger, prosocial tendencies are expressed. This not only shows the strength of those tendencies but also self-control in that situation.
      But this doesn’t happen generally as a rule. It’s so with all general statements in psychology, they don’t apply 100% of the time, but are found true in the majority of the cases.

    7. Thankyou so much for the explanation of my point….
      I am waiting to see more new articles here from you ! Sorry for being so much demanding in this regard but I find reading a great source of knowing a lot of things……Specially when there’s religion and psychology related with each other……..
      Thankyou.
      Regards.

    8. {Excellent|Fantastic|Well written|Timely} blog post, {I look forward to reading more.|can’t wait to see more.}Thank you for {bringing|delivering} more information to this {topic|subject} for me. I’m {truly|sincerely} {grateful|thankful} and really impressed.

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