Thursday, June 4, 2020

Anger isn't a problem: it's a notification

Hi there, I hope you're all safe and well during these scary times. I'm talking today about anger, a topic that some of us find a little difficult. 

I hope you enjoy it - and excuse the super long hair. My fringe is beyond my chin and I'm feeling like a Borzoi.  

This is Blesk, the Borzoi, from WikiCommons.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The perils and dangers of forgiveness

You hear it all the time, "Oh, just forgive them." Forgiveness is presented as virtuous, and as an attitude we should aspire to.

With respect, that's bunk.

Here's my reasoning.

First, there are clearly limits to forgiveness. Ask yourself, should we forgive mass murderers? Serial killers?

I would argue that it's nonsensical to hate them, they're probably sick, but forgiveness just isn't possible for outrageous crimes.

Few of us will engage directly with such an extreme case. However, in daily life, easy forgiveness leads to issues.

#1 Example: Fiona hurts Bob with her comments, and Bob forgives instantly. What happens next?

Takeaway: If you just forgive, people will hurt you again and again. You need to use hurt to push for positive change

#2 Example: Bob is furious because John sabotaged his promotion. Supposing John says he's sorry, and Bob feels compelled to say he forgives him, even though he's still mad. What happens when Bob swallows his rage?

Takeaway: Forgiveness is a process. You can't shortcut it because ignoring emotions will come back to haunt you as depression, suppressed anger etc

But the most toxic of all the "Oh, you must forgive" mantras out there is this:

#3 Example: Mary is deeply hurt when Sue laughs at her wish to become an engineer. Britt tells Mary to just forgive Sue. What does Britt think about Mary's hurt feelings?

Takeaway: When we dismiss other people's hurt, we disrespect them.

This is as plain as the nose on your face, and yet, we have the mantra. Why?  Why are victims being told to forgive? Who's saying this and why?

Why don't we tell the perps to change, do better?

Why do powerful people counsel "just forgive"? What's in it for them?

Victims are told to shut up because it is useful for the powerful that injustice continues. It's what keeps them on top.

And the flying monkeys, the people who will helpfully rage at victims, trying to scare or guilt them into shutting up, do so because they feel it's too scary to challenge powerful people.

It's easier to side with a powerful abuser than to stand up for what is right.

Also, abusers control others by gaslighting. As discussed here: how abusers act when caught out

I'm not saying you should take account of every little thing that happens. People mess up, and that's okay. Small things don't need to be called out. But for deliberate or consistent hurts, we need to speak up, for ourselves and for others. It should be done without anger, without nasty scolding, but with the intent to make it better for everyone.

True apology: accountability + steps to positive change – adding an apology is icing on the cake

Monday, April 13, 2020

Covid and suicide counselling in developing nations with little or no support system

Covid is causing havoc in terms of mental health, and so we've probably all got a friend or two who we are worried about. Most suicide prevention guides focus on listening and calling the authorities for help. If you want one of those, the Columbia University offers a great one.

That's awesome - IF you live in a country that has that kind of help. For many people around the world, there isn't a hospital or a doctor or a mental health professional. So what do you do then?

I'm going to kick off by saying I don't have a definitive answer. I work with people in difficult situations and I have found there are no easy solutions.

I do it because life is uncertain, and I believe that if we only dealt with simple things, people in difficulty would be alone. That can't be good. Also, mental health practice is always risky; it's part of the deal.

So, with that caveat, here are some thoughts.

#1 It's damn scary when someone says they are suicidal. So when you are scared, that's perfectly okay. You'd be a bit of a twit not to be afraid. Breathe and accept it's part of the situation.

#2 Immediate things that you can say:
I'm glad you're sharing this with me
I'm sorry you are hurting
Tell me, what brought this to a head? <- and then listen
How can I help you?

#3 Although it's tricky, you can distract your friend from suicide by focusing on the internal coping skills your friend has. You might start this by asking, "Do you remember another time when you were in crisis or near it? What did you find helpful then?" <- and then listen

#4 Identify who your friend trusts in their life who is close by and who can help: family, friends, house mates, neighbours.

This is where it gets tricky: be aware that in many places, asking for help can be actively dangerous. For example:

A woman living in a country where women have few rights, may be sent to live with abusive relatives. This is because those cultures believe in 'out of sight, out of mind'. She may also be beaten, whipped or jailed by the authorities simply for wanting to leave her husband.

An LGBTQ person who asks for help in a country where homosexuality is illegal can be jailed, whipped or executed. Even if they don't divulge their orientation, this fear may prevent them from seeking any kind of help even from a family doctor or tribal healer.

Another issue is that mental health is seen as a personal weakness and form of willful stubbornness in many cultures. Therefore, seeking help results instantly in a lecture that can be summed up as, "Say your prayers, obey your parents." Sometimes, it comes with community shaming. You know, because everyone loves a good shaming and it's so incredibly helpful 🙄

If you are from a free, democratic country, this can be hard to believe but it's vital that you understand and respect how dangerous the world is for marginalized people. 

So, when you talk it over, be respectful and understand that the person you are talking to has probably already tried all kinds of reaching out.

But, supposing they can think of someone, in that case, discuss what they might say and what the person they reach out to might answer.

If it sounds good to both of you, discuss who will make the call. Your friend may want to do it themselves, or with you on a conference call, or they may feel shy and want you to do it for them. Whatever they want, be gentle. 

#5 If there is nobody to call and there is no doctor, hospital or other help, then keep talking until the situation de-escalates. Then make a plan for being in touch.

My suggestion is that for your own peace of mind, you should make one firm appointment to text within a few hours, otherwise you'll be on tenterhooks.  And when you text, see how things are and take it from there.

If you can, open up the network so your friend get loving support from more than one person. Note: this may not be possible. Often, people who are driven to extremes by despair are alone. So be prepared to be a sole support for some time.

Well, that's my two Sen. If you've any suggestions, please comment.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

How Abusers Act When Caught Out

People who are into getting power and control think and act differently from the rest of us. Therefore, it can be tough to get your mind around how manipulative they are.

One way to see through trickery and gaslighting is to analyse apologies.

Many abusers are careful to maintain a façade of decency, respectability and fairness, so they operate behind closed doors. But with videos and the #MeToo movement, they're being called out more and more.

When confronted, you will hear them make 'apologies' that go like this:

#1 They state horror and pretend they don't know what's going on
#2 They appeal for pity through personal illness or sick children
#3 They make a non-apology
#4 They point out some completely unrelated virtuous act

Something like this:

"I'm totally shocked!  I don't understand. I'm just a simple person. Why are you angry?  You know I haven't been well recently. If I did something, and I don't know what, I'm sorry. You know I go to church every week and I volunteer."

The approach is actually very clever because it's a layered effort meant to attack you.

#1 They state horror and pretend they don't know what's going on
It's a deliberate misdirect that has two aims: to make you doubt yourself and to get other people to question whether you are truthful.

#2 They appeal for pity through personal illness or sick children
It's a deliberate misdirect with two aims: to make you feel guilty and to get other people to think you are attacking an 'untouchable' target.
Even if they are sick etc, this is a red herring, a deliberate attempt to gaslight you. Put crudely, men with dicky tickers and single mums of autistic kids can be abusive predators.

#3 They make a non-apology
Because some people will see the word sorry and not realise that it's meaningless because of it being sandwiched in between denial and attack. Also, predators offend face to face but they apologise in public and not to the victim if they can possibly help it. The remorse is a show to get public opinion on their side; they have no interest in the feelings of the victim.

#4 They point out some completely unrelated virtuous act
This is to appeal to black and white thinkers who see humanity as simply good or bad. In truth of course, we are all mixed up with bits of good and bad floating to the surface all the time.
Predators hope that the audience will say, "OMG, a person who did something good once can't possibly be an abusive predator." It's powerful stuff, which is why so many clever predators opt to work in religious institutions. If you aim to enjoy a life as a predator, that kind of authority and white hat regalia offers good camouflage.  

A real apology sounds like this:

#1 Owning the act
#2 Saying you're sorry directly to the victim
#3 Asking for forgiveness
#4 Offering to make amends (if appropriate)

"I'm so sorry I called you a twit. It was wrong of me. Can you forgive me? May I give you two tickets to the concert to make up for it?"

Analysing how people apologise is important for figuring out if you're in a toxic relationship. It's also useful for "she said, he said" situations. And in the time of the Covid, it might make watching the news more interesting ??

Photo Credit: The nose is from Pixabay

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What to do when your friend is in lockdown or quarantined with toxic parents or partners

Abuse isn't limited to beating the hell out of people with a cane or strap. <- and if you do this outside of consensual adult bedroom fun and games, I hope you go to jail.

Abuse can be verbal.

"Did you hear Tim got a promotion? Why don't you get a promotion?"
"Julie is married. You're almost 16/21/23/29. Nobody will want you."
"What do you mean, you're gay? We don't do that in our family!"
"You're too fat. This is a good time for me to help you diet."
"You're a failure. This is a good time for me to make you study really hard."
"You always make the wrong choices."

There are people who live with really horrible emotionally abusive people, nasty types who don't leave physical bruises but who run their prey down remorselessly.

I'm already seeing a spike in people becoming sick because of their toxic parents and partners. I'm hoping to God there isn't a spate of suicides.

What can you do?

Don't say, "They love you really." Because toxic people are shitty and that's not love talking.

Don't offer 'fixes' because toxic people are about power and control. They can't be managed when you're all shoved in the same house together.

Do say, "You are a good person. I care for you. Other people care for you too. This situation is horrible but it's not going to last forever. When this is over, we talk about how to get you out of this situation. In the meantime, lock yourself away as much as possible, know I'm here for you, and we keep talking." 

Then, LET THEM VENT. Let them say horrible things and just be there for them. Don't be shocked or tell them off. Living with toxic people is poison, so letting them vent lets them expel part of that poison.

If you think they're actively suicidal, call your local police. They can go and get your friend and take them to hospital. Or call your local council office and ask for help. You can also try suicide call centres like the Samaritans, Befrienders or whatever they are in your country to ask for emergency numbers.

Also note, the US is making a huge public library available for reading - free and internationally. If you are suffering from emotional abuse (horrible parents, nasty partner, evil boss) please read one of Dr Susan Forward's books.

Note: you can read it online but it's best to install the FREE adobe software so you can read it nicely. I've just done it. It takes a few minutes to download and install, no issues on Windows 10.

Click here to see Susan Forward's books on the FREE library

I hope this helps.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic and the invisible workers. A thought piece.

I thought I'd shake this blog up a bit by writing the occasional thought piece. If you want to discuss this, see me on my FB page.

As non-essential workers are being told to stay home, I'm trying to figure out what to do to help M, the lady who cleans for me once a week. 

M is not local and she's a cleaner by day for a big company. She and her colleagues have been told to stay home, and their employer gave them a 5kg bag of rice for the fortnight.  That's it.

Now, in the West I would send a pile of cash and that would be it. But here things are rather different.

As most of you don't know Asia very well, I would like to explain.

We have a tonne of foreign workers here in Malaysia, some are rich and spoilt like me but many others come from neighbouring countries and they tend to be poor and uneducated. M belongs to that group.

First, M speaks Indonesian as her second language and I speak it poorly, so she and I can only communicate on small matters.

I fixed that by roping in Charlie's mum to phone her. Charlie's mum is a career woman with a massive team and she's used to talking to ladies like M. Also, they know each other. While Charlie's mum is currently a couple of hours away, the magic handphones are coming into play.

Second, M is illiterate and rather cut off, so she only learned about the crisis when we informed her. It's taken Charlie's mum three calls over three days to explain what is happening, what a virus is and what curfews are all about.

Third, M doesn't have a bank account or a credit card. As I haven't seen her in a week, she probably has no cash, either.  So sending her money is not a matter of pressing buttons.

Fourth, the reason I hesitate to hand over a pile of cash is that M comes from a society where women are routinely deprived of their earnings.  Also, there is almost no privacy. What M knows, everyone around her hears and sees. There are no secrets.

So, if I hand over a bunch of moolah, it's very possible she ends up with no groceries while her male relatives back home go out boozing.

Just writing that makes me worried about infantalising her. She's a grown woman with kids, for goodness sake!

Then again, when I lived in Indonesia, I made that mistake once with another lady. During a mini economic downturn there in 1989 I handed her a load of money so she could keep her kids afloat. Her relatives spent it on booze and hookers, which created a massive fight in the family. I learned from that and won't repeat the error.

Do unto others is a crap rule when their culture is completely different.

So, what can I do? If M were standing in front of me, I could use Google translate and we'd spend an hour trying to figure out what she would like from me. But she's not here and talking to her over the phone is not easy even for Charlie's mum.

M is not comfortable with phones and this situation scares her. Also, she will find it hard to speak honestly about her family as we're outsiders.

So, I'm afraid circumstances have conspired to make it impossible for her to open her heart.

Then there's a further complication. As M is foreign, she can't go out by herself easily. She is a legal worker with permits etc but the police here regularly hassle foreigners and extort money from them.  With the controlled movement orders, it's probably best she doesn't leave her home.

I thought of sending a boatload of groceries. But M lives in a warren of tenements and the supermarket won't deliver there.

As Charlie's mum knows the problems too, we have devised a few questions that will hopefully help. We'll ask M to give us a list of groceries that she needs, and I will have the supermarket deliver to me. Then I will arrange to meet up with M someone near her place for a handover. (The police won't hassle me because I'm white).

I think the plan will work - as long as the controlled movement order doesn't turn into a lockdown.

Why am I telling you this? Mainly because Western news agencies don't cover this kind of story. There are references to gig workers and so on, but people like M tend to be overlooked. It's as if they're invisible.

I'm an optimistic person usually and I'm hoping that this pandemic will lead to some serious positive changes in society. We need more equality, fewer billionaires, and a more consideration, thought and heart for the poor.

Hopefully, sharing this will contribute to the conversation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Panicking about the Corona virus? Here's how to manage the anxiety

The news is full of it and people are stripping supermarket shelves of food and loo paper. If you're anxious, here are some tips on how to regain your balance.

Take a long, slow breath. When you are panicky, your body reacts instinctively by gearing up for action.  It hits a programmed pattern nicknamed fight or flight mode that is designed for times of trouble. Basically, your body prepares you for running away very fast or for bashing an enemy.   

What happens? Your breath speeds up so you suck in more oxygen and your heart speeds up so your blood runs through your veins faster. That combo helps deliver powerful oxygen to your muscles.

At the same time, your brain floods you with chemicals that make you super alert. And as a kicker, some non-essential systems shut down temporarily - like your digestion.

If you've going into a fight, this is super awesome because you're alert, strong and focussed.

If it's a false alarm, you have to stand down. You'll feel breathless, sweaty and your stomach may be upset.

If you do it off and on all day long, your body soon gets into a right old mess.

So, step one is to take a long, slow breath. Focus on calming down your breathing.

Look at something pleasant or soothing. You need to get out of flight or fight mode, so force your attention to happy stuff. Like Tic Tac and Target here.

Or perhaps you prefer a mountain scene. Whatever makes you smile and feel peaceful, train your thoughts on it.

Self soothe with a mantra of common sense. While it is sensible to be cautious about disease, panic doesn't do you any good. So it's important to reassure yourself of some basics.

People love panic. Panic is exciting, it livens up a dull day, and it gets you attention. So whether they mean to or not, people will be encouraging focus on the issue.

Panic sells. Newspapers, tv programmes and businesses are fueled by interest and panic is lots of interest. So whether they mean to or not, they will be encouraging focus on the issue.

Most of the panic is 'what might be' and not 'what is'. Speculation can look like helpful preparation but you should be asking yourself, what exactly could I contribute in a global apocalypse? If the answer is not very much, then there's no point in running around in a panic.

Reach out to people you love. Connecting with others will give you a lift and remind you of the good things in life. Call a friend, eat with your family (if you like them!) and play with your pets and kids. Also spend time on your favourite hobby. Or have sex. That's always a pick me up.

Focus on sensible advice. Wash your hands a bit more and be sensible about your health. If you think updates are useful, opt for a single daily update from a health information resource you trust, like a local hospital or government health ministry.

In short:

Take a long slow breath
Acknowledge that everyone is upset
Switch off from the constant focus
Limit yourself to a single update from a health resource you trust
And spend time on activities you love

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Tough Talk: How To Talk About Abuse And Bad BreakUps With Friends, Colleagues And Strangers

We're talking more and more about tough issues such as emotional abuse, rape and relationship violence, but as the subject is such a painful one, it can be tough to figure out how to approach these discussions.

Here's a quick easy guide.

When you're talking to a victim
You're chatting away, saying casually, "So, you broke up, huh? What happened?" and the person you're talking to bursts into tears, shuts down or is visibly uncomfortable. Your heart sinks and you realise you've entered difficult territory.

#1 Rule: Resist the impulse to ask about the gory details!

Do not ask for details
1) It is asking the victim to relive the trauma, which is cruel.
2) Asking for details can also sound like, "I need to know your reasoning", which implies you have the right to judge, which you don't.
Just say,
I'm so sorry. I can see this is painful for you.
Would you like to talk about this or shall we change the subject?
And leave it up to the victim.

When you're the victim
Sometimes you want to talk and sometimes you don't. In case you need a script for when you're tired and fed up, try this:

It was a difficult/violent/abusive relationship
You will understand this is painful to me
I won't discuss it

IF THEY PUSH: try and resist the temptation to call them damn insensitive interfering busybodies. Although it's an accurate description, it probably won't help.

Definitely don't bop them on the nose. Tempting as it is, it's illegal. 

Deep breath, centre yourself and repeat forcefully, "This is painful to me. I won't discuss it."
Or simply walk away.

Don't worry about seeming to be rude. Removing yourself from being harassed is simply sensible behaviour.

Want to support victims?
Many victims are paralysed by public interest and scrutiny. Being questioned, gossiped about and examined by all and sundry is being traumatised all over again.

Here's how you can transform your family parties, office, school and club into a safe space that supports victims:

#1 Shut down gossip.
Beatings, shouting matches and drama are fuel for gossip but it's a dagger to the heart for victims.
When people are relishing the horror with juicy gossip, speak up. "This is not a TV drama. This is real people hurting. I won't listen to this kind of talk."

#2 When you see a victim being pestered, speak up.
"John/Julie have made it clear they don't want to discuss it. Respect that." And then change the subject.

#3 Point out uncomfortable home truths.
"This is a private matter for John/Julie. It does not concern others."
"This is a private personal matter for John/Julie. You don't have a right to judge."

Speak up!  Make the world a better place for victims.  

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Three things parents do that scar kids for life

In 2019 a couple of issues kept popping up, specifically how common childhood experiences shape adult mental health in sometimes unexpected ways twenty, thirty and even forty years on. Here are some thoughts. They're not brilliantly written because I'm super tired.

And before we start: if you tell me how amazing it is to beat the crap out of kids because it's discipline, you get blocked. I'm not kidding. Today I am not putting up with any nonsense. (This was posted on my FB page originally, see for yourself here, it's a public page)

"I will leave you in the road by yourself"
Said once when in a temper because a kid's dawdling is human. But when used as a threat, and when mock-abandonment is used as a punishment, you get several things happening.

First, the child feels insecure. They know they can't rely on their family to keep them safe. So, they become anxious. As adults, they suffer from anxiety and are easily stressed.

Second, some decide that as they can't rely on their family, they can't rely on anyone. That fear knocks on and causes issues in their adult relationships with spouses, bosses, and friends.

Third, this kind of punishment can lead to the kid deciding the world is a hostile place and that action is better than suffering. As a teen, this can be in the form of rebellion (anger, joining gangs etc). As an adult, you're looking at a nasty cycle of emotional and possibly physical violence.

"I am your mother/father and I am never wrong"
No doubt it's convenient to have a house rule where you get to boss kids around and never to admit you're wrong but it sends an important message: kids learn that taking ownership of bad behaviour, apologizing and doing better isn't important.

Yup. By acting as if you're a god, you teach your kid to be a devil.

As adults, they run into trouble because they won't deal effectively with their own bad behaviour in their own relationships, including those with their partners, their own kids, friends and with employees/staff.

Hello to fights, divorce, loneliness and huge staff turnover. Never mind the lack of personal growth.

"You'd look better if you're thinner/more muscular"
Telling a child they need to be slim or to look ripped is telling your kids they're unlovable. This lays the ground for teenage mental health issues that includes eating disorders, body image issues and unhealthy lifestyles including drug and alcohol abuse, never mind feeling worthless.

As adults, they may continue to be anorexic, bulimic, depressed, anxious and there's a big chance they fall for abusive partners who leverage that inner feeling of worthlessness in order to gain control.

There are more things that happen in families that cause pain for generations, but these are three common things that come up over and over again that we seldom talk about.

I think it's time to talk. 

Photo credit: Image by Mandyme27 from Pixabay