Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“How to deal with people who keep bugging you...” Tips for when social media friends are a pain in the bum

This was written as a response to a Facebook post asking what you'd like me to blog about. The question was, “how to deal with people who keep bugging you ie they don't know boundaries?

Social media is great for keeping in touch, and making new friends, but unfortunately, it also opens the floodgates to unwanted contact. The two things that top the list include unsolicited advice and repeated PMs or requests for private chatting. Note: I'm not including PMs that ask for a contact, referral, or other very specific help or information. Those are always okay.

For me, the factors pushing both behaviours is similar. 

I see giving an unsolicited opinion once is okay, as it can be very hard to see if someone is just moaning about an issue because it happens to be on their mind or whether they are asking for help. Asking someone to chat when you've not met and you haven't had long public conversations on their timeline, well, I wouldn't do it myself but assuming it's polite and not a dick pic, I suppose there's no harm in it. 

However, it's only okay if the friend stops when you don't reply or fob them off with an "I'm busy" or equal non-response.

A person who is genuinely interested in your advice or who wants to chat in order to get to know you better will come back to you. If they don't, you should move on. This is why I think a second push is a no-no.

Still, suppose your friend goes for it again.  If you think they're basically okay but just not getting it, you have to be completely straightforward. The message has to be utterly plain, so they can't mistake it. After all, the subtle stuff has already passed them by.

For random unwelcome advice, you might say, “This is not something I wish to discuss further.”

If you have a health problem that's brought out the crazies, a friend who is expert at fielding these recommends, you preface it with a graceful, “Thank you for your kindness. I have a detailed treatment plan I am comfortable with.”

For persistent chat requests, I use this standard phrase, “If you have a specific question, or need a contact, do PM me, but I just don't have the time for random chitchat.”

It can be difficult to have to be this blunt but it means you can invite an “okay, I get it” in return, and it's all good again. With this option, you make it possible to keep your friend. I'm all in favour of this, because relationships are to be treasured.
However, if that person has a hissy fit, or keeps bugging you, that’s different.

I could beat around the bush here and be super sweet about it, but let’s talk turkey. There might be many underlying causes fueling this annoying persistence, and none are flattering.
·    They are self-centred/entitled and can't see their opinions/attentions are unwelcome.
·        They are selling something and hope to bully you into buying.
·        They are advocates/evangelists, meaning they are bullies intent on shoving their opinions onto you.
·        They are abusive and this is an attempt to control you by wearing you down.

In all these cases, I think it’s acceptable to cut them off. I do.

Clearly it will be more difficult if this person is close to you. However, there really is no reason why you should put up with bad behaviour.

Friends respect boundaries.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Oh, Oh! When You're Not As Clever As You Think

Long time, no see!  I’ve been busier than the proverbial bees and so haven’t had the time to blog.

However, apart from the private clients and the novel writing, I’m also back into research. I’ll tell you more about it in a few months. In the meantime, I thought you’d be interested in this nugget.

Do you ever find yourself super irritated by people who wax lyrical on complex topics they know absolutely nothing about? If yes, then read on....

The Man In The Pub is a classic. He’s the one who tells you how to fix the national budget, lower your blood pressure, dump your difficult boss, and he’ll have a sure fire fix your love life too - whether you ask him or not! The thing about him is that he's just ordinary but he thinks he's a genius.

Curiously, the Man In The Pub phenomenon is becoming more and more common. Just look around and you’ll hear people talking very confidently about statins, food additives, allergies - and they do it while admitting they barely passed their high school chemistry and biology exams, never mind taking a hard science course of any kind at college.

Question: why do these people think they understand complex topics when their ‘research’ consists of reading a couple of Facebook posts based on a magazine article that was shared by friends?

First, there’s the Dunning-Kruger effect. It says that when you lack skills, you come to the wrong conclusions. Then, because you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t tell you’ve made a mistake. So you go about, thinking you’ve got it nailed, when actually you don’t. What you do have is a case of illusory superiority. Ouch, right? (Want to read the papers, check out the references below)

And here’s the bit I’m interested in... I think the reason we’re all becoming The Man In The Pub is because we have the illusion that we’re always connected and always learning. Our smartphones and our Google make us think that we’re soaking up smarts. 

We feel empowered, which is lovely, but we’re not actually learning that much. While we might be a bit better about finding out quickly where Bangui is, or who was fighting at Flodden back in 1513, no amount of Googling is a substitute for serious study. That's common sense, right? If all you had to do was Smartphone away, we’d all have a couple of dozen PhDs by now.

Given we're living in the Internet age, we’re all suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect at least a little bit. And the problem is that it can make life awfully difficult. (I’ll write more about that later, as this is getting a bit long.)

It got me thinking, what’s a quick self-check to see if you might be falling into this?

I suggest this: the next time you talk about a complex topic, like medicine or space exploration, ask yourself what kind of knowledge you would need to be a world renowned expert. Could you be a surgeon on the basis of your marketing degree?  Would NASA ask you to take charge of the Space Station because you have a masters in psychology? If the answer is probably not, watch yourself.

Crushing, right? And I was so certain I could do Robert M. Lightfoot Jr's job! But hey, better than being The Man In The Pub. 

Check it out these papers:

Dunning, D. (2011). 5 The Dunning-Kruger Effect: On Being Ignorant of One's Own Ignorance. Advances in experimental social psychology, 44, 247.
Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1121.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

I am safe to come out to - celebrating Coming Out Day in the USA

Today is National Coming Out Day in the USA, a time dedicated to raising awareness of civil rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

If you don't know me personally, this seems a good day to say that I am a safe person to come out to.

If you're in a country where being LGBT is a crime, and you're looking for a therapist for managing depression and stress, please know you can talk to me secretly and safely.

Contact me via email at

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Are you being sexually harassed online? Here's what to do.

Online sexual harassment is common and I’m fed up of people who think we should suck it up or ignore this incredibly wicked and damaging behaviour.

If you are a victim, here are some tips for reporting effectively.

We’re going to do this in three stages: documenting, reporting and support.

Thanks to Stevenpb from Pixabay
1. Take screenshots of each and every incident.

2. Note the time and date.

3. Take a screenshot of the perpetrator’s personal details. Be sure to capture all their pages, from their education to their contact list.

4. Write a coherent detailed report of what happened and when, complete with all your screenshots. If you find anything is missing, now is the time to go back and collect evidence.

5. When your report is complete, report each comment to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. Each comment is a report, so note down when you report them, and add that information to your report. Yes, take a screenshot!

6. Block the user who is harassing you. From this moment on, you can’t see him or her anymore, so once you’ve done this, you won’t be able to add to your report, okay? So make double sure you have everything you need before this step.

Contact MyCERT, the Malaysian cyber security people. Note, this works if there is a Malaysian connection: for example, you can use them if you are in Malaysia, the perpetrator is in Malaysia, or the company he or she works for is Malaysian.

If there is no Malaysian connection at all, contact whoever is responsible for cyber crimes in your own community.

My advice is to phone and then email MyCERT. Ask for an incidence report number. Add this to your overall report.

Once you’ve lodged your MyCERT report, you can consider these further options.

A. Take the information to the police. If you aim to take this to court, or you think the person attacking you will turn up at your house/office one day, you need to alert the police.
If you don’t intend to go to court, and don't anticipate other dangers, then this step may or may not be worth it.

On the one hand, the police should know what’s going on. For all we know, the person harassing you is already a person of interest in other crimes. This may or may not include stalking, domestic violence, criminal intimidation and so on. If that is so, the police really need to hear from you.

On the other, the police tend to be understaffed when it comes to tech crime experts. My view is that a reasonable compromise is to go and see them and ask if they’d like a formal report. Policing should be a community effort, and so reasonable adults should be able to talk reasonably.

B. Inform the company the perpetrator works for that you have filed an official complaint.

In my view this is incredibly important. If someone is happy to sexually harass you online, you can bet your boots they’re doing it at work too.

We all know how hard it is to make a formal complaint at work about harassment. It is vital that management has a heads-up so they can make informed decisions.

Also, if it were my company, I would want to know that my people were disgracing my name online.

However, it's up to you to decide if you want to do this. If you feel uncomfortable, you might also talk to a lawyer and have her do it for you.

Me, I'm the direct kind. I would write directly to the CEO and let her send it to whoever needs to deal with it within her own system. For a very large company, I might also copy my note to HR. And if I weren't seeing a response, I would send it to their corporate communications department. Believe me, if you want a response, the media people will be screaming the second they get your email.

C. You may decide not to report it further.

Reporting means getting more people involved, more talking and there is no doubt that many people just can't cope with that kind of pressure.

If that's you, then make your report to MyCERT and the social media it happened on and leave it. I know I'll get slammed for this but let me tell you: if it's going to make you ill, then don't force yourself to be a hero. Just keep reporting; that's good enough. The more of us who report, the better. And your information may bolster someone else's case.

If you decide to tackle these bullies, good for you! Yes, it's a drain but the more of us who step up, the easier it becomes for others to speak up. So go for it, but do make sure that you manage the stress that goes along with this kind of case.

You can expect some fallout for reporting. First, there are invariably ignorant and hurtful comments online from people who blame you for being the victim of this crime. It’s up to you whether you choose to educate them or remove them from your friends list.

Second, you may also face harassment from the perpetrator’s pals who hope to frighten you off. After all, you’re spoiling their nasty little game by shining a light on them. This can get very nasty, from having them put out fake news about you, to direct physical threats of violence. If you're worried, talk to the police and your lawyer. In case of extra harassment, document and report.

Finally, when you report your case may go nowhere. However, if someone decent becomes involved, they will follow up. That can mean telling your story over and over again. That is in itself stressful because it's like having the wound poked at repeatedly, plus there's bound to be questioning of your motives, person etc.

To cope with the overall stress, my advice is to gather your support network. Identify friends, colleagues and acquaintances who can help you long-term, short-term and in specific instances. Make a list!

Also, spend twenty minutes a day focusing on destressing. That should have a twin focus:

1. Doing something fun that you like (talking to your cat, watching silly films on YouTube) and,

2. Working of physical stress either by running or by hitting something very hard to get rid of the anger (tennis, squash, kickboxing - whatever works)

You might also enlist the help of a professional like me to help you manage this difficult time.

I’m a counselling psychologist and I work online over Skype, Facetime and Messenger. Contact me through

And finally, don’t blame yourself! Put the blame where it is: on the nasty minds who get their kicks from attacking others.

Good luck!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Are You For Real? A Tip For Avoiding Con Artists Posing As Psychologists

Most of the information we see online about  psychologists comes from the EU, North America, Australia and New Zealand. That's a problem if you don't live there because it gives a very false impression of the field.

Psychologists deal with vulnerable people but in most of the world, the profession is totally unregulated.

Shocking, right? If you're in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Indonesia and goodness knows how many other countries, you can simply announce, "I'm a psychologist!" and nobody will do a blessed thing to stop you messing about with people who are suicidal, struggling with learning issues and other serious problems.

There are con artists with no training whatsoever, not even a basic diploma in psychology, running companies that advertise in newspapers, setting up their own endorsement agencies, and even their own training centres.  They  'diagnose' you and often charge the earth, too.

There is plenty of discussion about it in the field, but in my opinion, this will be an ongoing issue for some years to come. Even if you fix the problem with a quick bit of legislation, enforcement is difficult - especially as these people will simply rebrand themselves as "lifestyle gurus" or whatever other title sounds cool.

So when you need a psychologist, how do you avoid the cons? I had the look yesterday at the social media (Facebook and LinkedIn) of several leading lights in the community and then I compared it to some known crooks.

The legitimate people were posting cartoons of owls, photos of their lunch, moaning about their kids, giggling about silly things that happened to them, sharing jokes - and very occasionally commenting on a psychological issue.

The cons had a steady stream consisting of shares of journal articles, press articles, motivational quotes and their own evil advertising.

Depressing, right?  The cons looked so damn legitimate that if I didn't know better, I'd consult them!

So what can you do? One thing that did stand out was this: real people have connections to universities. They don't necessarily work in them but they'll have friends there.

So I'd say this: if you are looking for a psychologist online, first see who their friends are. And if they are posting, see if their pals commenting are from recognisable unis. If they are, you're probably okay.

You can also ask me. I may not know the people you want to consult myself, but I have a South East Asia network that I'm happy to draw on.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Should your counselling psychologist give you advice?

Sigmund Freud, Wikipedia
If you’ve never been to see someone about a mental health issue before this may seem a weird question.  However, there are two broad approaches to our kind of work.

In the old days, clients would pitch up, describe what was going on, and receive an expert opinion.  Possibly this came about because many of the first modern generation of mental health providers were psychiatrists, medical doctors specializing in mental health.  So they’d act like traditional doctors, dispensing wise counsel to their patients.

Carl Rogers, Wikipedia
But in the 1940s, the idea of a client centered approach became popular. It was championed by Carl Rogers, a psychologist (not a medical doctor!) who believed that we are each our own best expert. He advocated that mental health workers should listen to and work with the client to set goals and find solutions.

Today mental health providers who give advice are called Directive and those who are client centered approach are called Non-Directive.

Generally speaking, people in the West lean towards wanting Non-Directive practitioners because it generally falls in line better with our individualistic, egalitarian cultural approaches while people in South East Asia lean towards wanting Directive practitioners because it falls in line better with their group oriented, strong hierarchical cultural approaches.

I say generally and am making sweeping statements because this is just a casual blog post. If you want to debate this, we can talk about it.  For now the question is, if you are looking for help and a bit uncertain about what you want, what should you know?

Here are some thoughts:

A big pro of the Directive approach is that you don’t have to make any decisions. You pay someone to do it for you. If you get someone good, who thinks like you, that can work very well. However, the main drawback is that what works for me, may not work for you. If you are not totally in sync, the advice may not work - or make things worse.

A big pro of the Non-Directive is that you are involved in every stage of the process, and so you are much more likely to develop good approaches that suit your unique person and situation. The main drawback is that it takes a lot of work, and it can be tiring.

Me, I suggest it’s best to work with someone like me who does a bit of both. You see, there are times when something is clear to me because of my training and experience.

For example, I’m very happy to say things like, “There are three ways of doing this, A, B and C. From what I know of you, I’d go with approach B as it’s most likely to suit you best.”

I’m also not shy about giving opinions. For example, “I think you should consider looking into your relationship with your MIL, because it sounds toxic and I think it may cause you trouble if you don’t address it.”

But then I also check with you that this is what you want. And if you disagree, that’s okay too. Because I’m someone you work with; I’m not your nanny.

PS: if you are looking for discreet support, you can contact me via

Saturday, August 19, 2017

When hate gets to you, reach out

Does it seem to you that hate is becoming mainstream?

My brother called me this morning, worried about the terror attacks in Barcelona, Cambrills and Turku over the last few days, coming right on top of Charlottesville, Manchester and London. As he's in Saudi and I'm in Malaysia, we are also aware of the many hate crimes that don't hit main stream news media.

"I don't believe in profiling," he said, "but we have to do something about violent arseholes!"

In case you're confused which particular violent arseholes we were thinking about, the answer is all of them. 

You see, if you take me, my brother and our partners and their sibs and partners, just us very close family, you will see a kind of United Nations effect. We range from Nippon Paint's brilliant white to the finest dark chocolate in terms of skin, and we cover most of the major faith groups. We're from Europe, North America and Africa and we live in all those places plus the Middle East and Far East Asia.

In other words: whenever someone blows up "the enemy" or mouths off about "the x problem" you're talking about one of us. It is very hard not to fall into hate. Especially when politicians and faith leaders make speeches about how you are Evil Incarnate.

I can't fix the world but I can help manage my feelings.

What helps me is engaging with people who are cheerfully accepting of differences. The kind who  just respect that we're all different and celebrate it.

When I'm having an anti-X moment, I pick up the phone, and go for a coffee with a friend who isn't like me, and we just hang and have a good time. It can be a Malaysian Christian Mala or a Cambodian Muslim May or a Thai Hindu Myriam - it doesn't matter. Just reminding myself that friendships cross divides cheers me up.
Good random experiences are a tonic too. Like when me and my friend Emanar were in Central Market a week or two ago, talking to two Malay girls running a clothing stall.

"I need a party shirt for my husband," I said to them.

They hauled out a lovely batik, perfect for a posh event.

"I love it," I said. "But I'm thinking more of a party at the pub."

"He can wear this there too," the sisters giggled. "And he'll look so handsome!"

"He's dressed nicely all week at work. Do you have something more relaxed?"

The sisters thought for a second, and then dived into their stock, producing the best beach party shirt I'd seen in years and asking, "Will tuna fish be suitable for the pub?"

"The tuna fish," I said seriously, "will be the talk of the regulars for weeks!"

"Tell them where you bought it!" the girls chorused instantly.  

Such a simple story, right? An everyday occurrence. But when I hear hate speech urging us into "Us & Them" remembering that little scene gives me hope.

Hate isn't universal. And when we reach out and remind ourselves of the ordinary people who are quite happy to accept differences, the world looks a little better.

PS the sisters have the stall on the first floor, on the balcony, directly facing the main door. Their batik shirts are awesome, and they had several more tuna shirts! You should go and take a look.