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."
"Stupid."
"Dumb."
"Disappointment."

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
BECAUSE
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

Saturday, December 28, 2019

One tweak made my year a much happier one

Talking to Target makes me happy
You know how it is: at New Year you're determined to have a relaxed time and be a better person but by February you're uptight and back to being stressed and bad tempered. This year, I've managed to do a little better and it was surprisingly easy.

I've written about happiness scheduling before. This year, I've put it into practice. Basically, the theory goes like this: we schedule shitty things like dental appointments and bill paying but we dismiss the fun stuff like chatting with friends or going for a walk. So, with the happiness scheduling system, you focus on shoving the fun bits back into your life.

I now spend a few minutes every morning consciously enjoying the moment. On Mondays, I chat with a friend for an hour and afterwards Target and I go outside to have a purr and to listen to the birds. For the rest of the week, I have my coffee while the cats breakfast, and then Target and I sit outside.

Basically, that's it! Just taking a few minutes out to connect with nature and cat purrs is enough to give me a happy boost.


Although it's super simple, it's surprising how often I'm tempted to skip it because I have things to do. Dull things like write up notes. But I catch myself and remind myself that I deserve to have fun.



Target is the chief office snoopervisor
After all, life is for living and enjoying, otherwise, what's the point?

I know it but between you and me, that focusing on the joy thing can be awkward. I sometimes feel a right twit. I catch myself thinking, "Sheesh, Ellen. Conscious appreciation of joy. Seriously? What's next? Astrology and retro-phrenology?" because I'm a skeptical, cynical person.

But, I'm also super practical and this stuff works. Over the year it's become a part of my day, boosting me. And as the habit has matured, I'm not trying to talk myself back into bad habits anymore either.

So there you go. I'm sharing in the hope that it helps you.

PS, I don't think the cat is a vital part of the scheduling, but it sure helps!



NOTE: I'm a counselling psychologist working online via live video conversation over Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime and Messenger video. You can contact me via PM or send an email to happy@lepak.com

Sunday, December 8, 2019

I'm dreading Christmas. Do I have to go home?

It's that time of year again where we celebrate the awesomeness of families.  But if your home is more like Arrested Development meets Jax Teller's family from Sons of Anarchy, then this will be a super tricky period.


Talking about mean families is taboo, especially during big holidays. While child abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse is rampant, many 'nice' people prefer to close their eyes to all that nastiness. They go about, refuting the idea that not all of us have a warm loving home.

So if you want to talk about your emotions and circumstances, you might hear incredibly stupid, and downright dangerous advice like,

"They're your family, forgive them."
"They don't mean it. Just don't listen."
"You must have done something. Just pray and be good to them."

And that's how you end up in hospital because mummy dearest went overboard this time with the beating or daddy finally convinced you that you're so worthless you actually went and slit your wrists.

If your family are horrible, this post is to help you navigate through some decisions and to offer you some practical advice.

#1 HOW TO DECIDE IF YOU GO OR OPT OUT
The pressure to go home and act as if you're a Disney family where all is peace and love can be overwhelming. Also, abusive families tend to do a good job into conditioning victims to keep coming back for more. And their helpful enablers are there to guilt you into it, too.

That's why you end up talking yourself into going home, only to get there and think, "Doh!  How did I forget?"

Now we're a few weeks away, I think it's important to ask a series of questions.
If you go:
·         Are you in physical danger, as in does you family hit, slap or threaten violence?
·         Will your family harass or tease you until you are visibly upset and/or can't take it anymore?
·         Do your family treat your partner like rubbish?
If you can say yes to any of these, then my question would be, why go? If they can't even meet this low standard of human decency, you are under no obligation to put yourself or your partner into such awful circumstances.

If you decide to skip it, here's how to do it with minimum fuss.
1.       Don't announce your intentions in advance. If you say you're not going, you get all the flying monkeys, the screaming hordes who think it's best for you to go and have a terrible time because it suits their notions of 'what looks right'. Plan not to go, and keep it secret so you're not pressured.
2.       On the day, send a text and claim you missed the flight, bus or had to go into work. Then switch off your phone. Then do what makes you happy. If that means tickets to the beach resort, awesome!
3.       After the holiday, you can choose to engage and reset the rules. Or you can choose to walk away for a year or forever.
4.       Remember: your family don't own you. Disengaging can take some doing (you may need to move home or switch phone numbers) but there are lots of people who are estranged and they thrive.  Just make sure you're safe as you go about it.

#2 IF YOU WANT TO GO BUT LIMIT YOUR ENGAGEMENT
(This is also the system for if you skip this holiday and then engage later but want to change the rules)
Start by thinking over what usually happens. Like, most families have a set pattern of behaviour that governs the abuse.

It starts with the soup. Mum serves up a bowl and Dad will point out that I'm too fat and should skip this. Ten minutes later, they're both telling me I won't marry, am in the wrong career, and basically that if I were just completely different, they'd be much happier.

Run the last few times they went at you through your head and work out how they work.
Now work out what the abuse does to you.
You must warn the family in advance where your boundaries are, so write it down.
Then resolve what you will do if it happens. Like, one warning and then you leave.
Finally, and this is the tough step, you need to announce your new hard limits. This is best done via text.

To follow our example, you'd text to mum and dad:

"Mum, Dad, this year I want no personal remarks about my body, my career or anything else. It's not 'advice' and it's not helpful. It's just mean."

They won't take it lying down. Abusive people enjoy their power and they will gaslight you, harass you, play the victim and more. Expect,

"You're so sensitive."
"You're our child. You're not allowed to tell us what to do. "
"We never say things like that. You're imagining it. Also, your mum has fainted from your totally false accusations."

And the text from Uncle Ken who rants, "You're so ungrateful! I'm disgusted by you!"

Remember: at this point you can still choose not to go. Seeing you've opened the conversation, you may consider being up front, "If you feel that way, I'll skip this year." Or, just say nothing and on the day tell them you won't be there.

If they promise better behaviour, then you need to go to step two: harness your support group.

You may have uncles, aunts, cousins or friends who attend who will back you up when the abuse starts. Talk to them in advance so they know what's going to happen. If trouble strikes, they may defend you but most likely they will only be willing to redirect the conversation.

"Dad, I told you, no personal remarks. They're hurtful. Aunt Peg, do tell me about your garden. How's it going?"

Alternatively, have a friend or two who is on your side stand by on text.

Finally, remember that if your boundaries are ignored, you must do as you said and leave. This is important because your family need to learn that you are serious about demanding respect.  

Leaving is best done in style. Don't yell or scream, just exit. Again, abusive families will pretend to be sick, have fits, hurt themselves and will threaten to cut you off forever. Don't fall for their playacting! If you go back, they'll bully you until the end of your life.  Just keep going.

Walking out once won't fix it but if you keep walking out when they're being mean, they will eventually learn to behave themselves.

I know it's tough and you may be scared of what they will do. But believe me, it's better to be away from all that hurt than volunteering for it. I hope this helps.

Photo Credit: Image by Peter Dargatz from Pixabay