T’is the Season To Be Jolly.. Or Else?

So, I returned from an appointment the other week (back in November, actually!), to discover that my neighbours had already started decorating for Christmas 😐 this is something that does not make me happy; in fact, I had been hoping to hold off on the ‘Christmas Blog’ for a few more weeks yet. But, when another neighbour decorated with lights outside their house (in a bizarre pattern!) last week, I felt that I could not contain this blog anymore; batten down the hatches, Christmas is coming (not said in a Game of Thrones style, I promise).

So, when DO we start getting ready for Christmas and how does all this affect us? I am a bit of a traditionalist; to me, Christmas decorations and trees should not appear before the 15th December, as the earliest! However, there has been a growing pattern of people starting the festivities earlier and earlier; the first year we moved in here, four years ago, the decorations came out the first week of December and they have crept earlier and earlier every year since!

This made me think- am I being ‘Bah humbug’ or are other people feeling the same as me? I found a study by (Werner, Peterson-Lewis and Brown, 1989) that suggests that neighbours who decorate their houses, and perhaps do not have many friends in their street, are doing so to show their openness and cohesiveness in their local community. So, does that mean I don’t want to get involved with my neighbours? Well, yes, to a certain extent, but this doesn’t explain WHY people decorate so early? Maybe it is to welcome the neighbours to the coming festivities?

What about those people whose decorations are ridiculous to the extremes? And I am thinking this;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20669944

Now, perhaps this level of decoration could actually alienate the neighbours? Who wants to live next door to lights of that extreme, or that many visitors during December? The only positive thing I can think of, is that I think your house would be fairly safe from burglars throughout the whole of December?

So, if lights can either make you more (or less) tolerant and accepting of your neighbours, what does give you the ‘Christmas Spirit’? Well, a popular study I have found, cited by all the Christmas Naysayers, is from a couple of scientists in the Journal of Happiness Studies. (Kasser and Sheldon, 2002) asked 117 people, ranging in age from 18-80. They asked them to answer questions about their satisfaction, stress, and emotional state during the Christmas season, as well as questions about their experiences, use of money, and consumption behaviors during the festive period!

Now, I don’t know if this was what you were expecting, but peoples satisfaction was actually greater for the festive period, when it was based around family and religious experiences, rather than spending loads of money and giving/receiving gifts. Was that what you were expecting? I don’t know if I was; I know that, for me, I am very lucky and have a wonderful family, so Christmas is all about being with them. I don’t really mind present giving and receiving, or maybe that is because I am far too old, and bah humbug!

I find it hard to get too exited about Christmas until late December because, for me, it can’t start without my family. So until I am doing those activities like the Christmas food shop, or the kids start the school holidays it really is not Christmas time.

The Christmas period starting in late November, or early December is more about retail. Shops have to be able to sell goods and toys for two paydays before the 25th to give people a chance to buy things. For many people this leads to Christmas fatigue before Christmas arrives, and this is why I choose to ignore the holiday season for as long as possible.

So, I guess this brings us to the crux of the issue; what if it isn’t about spending, money and presents. What if it is about spending time with loved ones. And, lets just say, you are alone and don’t have any loved ones to spend it with. What then? What if you are left alone for Christmas, and I don’t mean in a cutesy ‘Home Alone’ movie style? What happens then?

It can be very hard to be alone for Christmas, but conversely, some people love being alone at this time! So, what can you do to keep yourself from being lonely at Christmas?

Scouring the Internet, the ideas are all the same;

  • Volunteer- helping others always makes us feel good about ourselves, and lets be honest, Christmas is probably the best time to volunteer!
  • Say YES to everything you are invited to- even if you are not feeling up to it, say YES! You can always leave early and go home; you never know what you might be missing out on, if you don’t even try
  • Work, Work, Work- if you enjoy working, then work! We are all different and different things make us happy. If it isn’t interrupting your life, perhaps you can get a jump-start on next quarters budgets!
  • Indulge yourself- comfort food, stay in your pajamas all day, dancing around the front room, watch your favourite movies all day long, whatever it is, DO IT!
  • Don’t wallow in your loneliness; find some support, internet, friends, chat rooms, whatever- just don’t feel like you are on your own!
  • Planning your time in advance is a good way of staving off the loneliness; if you have planned your time in advance, you know that you are not going to get bored and lonely, as you have a full itinery of things to do. Sounds like a plan to me J
  • Random acts of kindness and having faith can be quite important; I don’t mean an all encompassing faith that demands your presence at church 24/7, but perhaps some Mindfulness meditation, some relaxation or just getting in touch with your spiritual side and your ideas of what life is all about. Whatever it is that can make you happy.

So, there you have it, you’ve got some ideas to get you going. But what if none of those things appeal to you, and you don’t have anyone special to spend the holidays with? Well I would say that you do… You are special, buy yourself a present and enjoy it, you deserve it!


Kasser, T. and Sheldon, K. (2002) ‘What Makes for a Merry Christmas?’, Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, December, pp. 313-329.

Werner, C., Peterson-Lewis, S. and Brown, B. (1989) ‘Inferences about homeowners’ sociability: Impact of christmas decorations and other cues’, Journal of Environmetal Psychology, vol. 9, no. 4, December, pp. 279-296.

 

 

Troll; a New Name For An Old Game

So, I was going to write a blog piece about how this week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, however, I recently made a flippant comment on social media, and all kinds of furore ensued. As I have said before, I won’t argue Politics, Religion or Music; changing people’s opinion is not my mission in life- supporting people to achieve their missions in life, however, is.

I am a fairly laid back person- I believe in the right to freedom of speech and I believe in the right for people to have their own opinions. What I don’t believe in, in any way shape or form, is bullying, and this folks, is what I became subject to- the infamous ‘Internet Troll’! Now, this got me thinking- we can all Pop Psychologise the schemas and mind-set’s of an Internet troll, but actually, what is going on for them and why do they do what they do?

In this day and age, I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 doesn’t communicate in some way via social media, email or text messaging (I have no statistics on this, so this is just a rough guess!) so this made me wonder- what are the studies out there? Has anyone studied Internet trolling? How many people have experienced Internet Trolling and if so, what is the usual outcome?

This might not seem like it would affect you or be something you would come to Therapy with, but, actually, cyber bullying is on the increase- in 2012-2013 Childline (a UK charity) saw an 87% increase in the contact they had with children complaining of cyber bullying. To put this in context, there were 4,507 children who actually had a counselling session from Childline, in a one-year period, specifically about cyber bullying. I couldn’t find any statistics for adults, but if the statistics for children have increased, I would imagine, so too, have the statistics for adults.

My experience of being ‘trolled’ was from someone I did not know, over a comment I made, expressing my own opinion. This person then took it upon themselves to bring me to task for being irrational and abusive- of which, I believe, I did no such thing. The troll decided that I had caused an affront to people and as such, it was their task to chide me. It was, to say the least, intimidating that someone so vehemently, aggressively and dogmatically was ‘baying for my blood’. This person wanted me to pay for what I had said- they felt the need to publicly vilify me, and would not give up until they did.

After a few comments, I politely declined to continue- ‘know when to pick your battles’ is something I have been taught by my parents over the years, and I can spot a troll fairly easily. To be fair, I shouldn’t have even replied to them once, but, I am only human, and so I did. Mistake number 1.

Mistake number 2 was not pushing it to the back of my mind and forgetting about it. It bugged me. Someone was being incredibly rude about me on a public forum, whether deserved or not, and it made me feel uncomfortable.

So, what could I do? Well, I could research- go to my books and look for a reason as to why people like this person feel the need to belittle people and ignore their opinions. What makes the Internet troll think they are right and that everyone else in the world, who doesn’t agree with them, is wrong?

So, firstly, what is an Internet Troll? What is the definition? Well, I found this online, from the good old Oxford Dictionary;

‘Make a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.’

Now, I have met a few of these in my time, both personally and professionally, but I have never had the displeasure to greet one online. And, linking in to one of my other blog posts (about how we behave and what we write when we are hidden behind a computer screen), I wondered whether Internet trolls are the same in real life, or was it just the safety of the computer that gave them the edge and bravado to behave however they wanted to?

Actually, I guess this does tie in with Mental Health Awareness week- after all, if someone is being/has been trolled for a period of time (or even just once could be enough), this could seriously upset and trouble them. Bullying is bullying, be it online or face to face and we know from statistics, that bullying does cause people to become depressed, suicidal and to even feel like they have no choice left but to take their own life.

So, what makes a troll? Well, according to a study in 2014, ‘trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘‘hot-button issues’’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014). So, an Internet Troll is a very specific type of person- they are actively seeking to make users appear overly emotion or foolish. I can certainly identify with that as being my experience. This study took place in Canada, and consisted of 1215 participants. They were recruited from an Amazon website and were given several, notable and rigorously tested personality scale questionnaires- the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS), the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale (VAST) and a 27 item Short Dark Triad Scale (SD3). Short Dark what? The Dark Triad is effectively a Tetrad of Personality- people who experience and identify more with Sadism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism. These scales, when filled in, give the researchers an idea of what types of personality make up an Internet Troll. After all, the people who took part in the study were, admittedly, Internet Trolls; so, who better to ask?

What the study found was that the participants, a mix of men and women, commented, on average, at least 1 hour per day. That is 1 hour per day that these Trolls give up to their ‘hobby’. If you had an hour free, per day, I wonder what you would want to fill it with? Perhaps being kind to yourself and allowing yourself some ‘me’ time to do something that makes you feel good? I guess, that is the point for Internet Trolls- trolling does make them feel good; albeit in an odd way. Younger people commented for longer and men spent a greater time commenting that women.

The troll persona would appear to be a combination of a malicious virtual avatar, which reflects their own personality and their ideal self. Of all the personality measures that were studied, sadism was associated most with trolling and was specific to the trolling behaviour. The personality measures also show that trolling had a positive correlation with Psychopathy and Machiavellianism- as the authors of the study describe, ‘cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism. Wow. I was not expecting to come across this information. Now, I am in no way saying that my troll had any of these issues that I have discovered evidence for- I cannot possibly know that, and I cannot ‘psychologize’ someone I have never met. For all I know, my troll didn’t understand what they were doing. So, please do not assume I am tarring every troll with the same brush- as with everything in life, there is no black or white, only shades of grey.

Another study claims that trolling is both ‘real and pretend, both playful and malicious’ (Phillips, 2011). So, does that mean that they are just playing with your emotions? Purely for ‘the game’ and ‘the lulz’? In the Phillips study, the troll lays the blame firmly at the recipient’s door- saying that they are free to leave the public forum/social media and just not look at it anymore. But what about the invasion of privacy for the victim of the troll? And why should they be forced out of their social media- don’t we all have a right to be online, how we want and when we want?

Another study describes trolls as ‘Trolls attempt to hijack a discussion through harassment or inflammatory content, hoping to provoke an emotional response. The troll ‘wins’ when discussions descend into virtual shouting matches’ (MacKinnon and Zuckerman, 2013). So, being at the end of a troll’s wrath is a no-win situation. Another study states that ‘the order of society is maintained by morality. Morality has definite rules and conducts, which every member of the society agrees upon and depends on. Morality is functional since it has authority and regularity. Therefore people know how to behave and what is right or wrong offline. In the Internet space, however, people do not perceive clear codes of conducts on the Internet, nor authority and regularity, according to the result of this study. Unlike offline morality reinforced by education, that online morality have not been shared and not even discussed so provides the existence of Troll.’ (Shin, 2008)

For some people, trolling is obviously a hobby- a mean one, but one that they enjoy. The victims, not so much. The effects of online bullying are far-reaching. People who troll online are not necessarily devoid of morals in real life, so, the question remains, why do it online?

Victims of cyber bullying are often told if you cant handle it, get offline. But why should you? So, how do you deal with something as serious as online bullying? Where do you go and what do you do, if you don’t want to go ‘offline’? There is support out there, but the convention seems to be, step away from the Internet! Sometimes, however, the damage is already done.

So what does all this mean, well a person will not necessarily consciously decide to find a deserving victim and become the Troll. But someone will rather come across a situation that fulfills their specific trigger requirements – say an offense to their pragmatic morality, and will punish that victim until they see the error of their ways. They may not see their behavior in same way as an external perspective, and without the feedback inherent in more involved forms of communication, continue without mercy. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new concept, but bullying is not. The same feelings can apply in real life, as well as the virtual.

In my practice, I have worked with clients that have been bullied- some for a short time and some for years and years. The damage that it does to them is intense, traumatic, and to some extent, irreversible. Being the victim of a bully changes you forever; it changes the person you were and creates a whole new person who has to learn to deal with the changes that have happened. Some of the changes can be good- the victim can find strength in standing up to a bully, but this can be rare. Most of the time, the changes are not positive; they wear on you as time goes on.

Coming to therapy can really help the victim; they can talk about what has happened to them and explore what the impact has been on them. However, sometimes, victims feel like they are all alone and have no one to turn to- this is when bullying can take a vicious turn. What the bully feels is just ‘a little bit of fun’ can lead to far reaching ramifications for the victim; ‘Beyond the immediate trauma of experiencing bullying, victims are at high risk of later physical and emotional disorders.’ (Vanderbilt and Augustyn, 2010). And here we are, full circle to Mental Health Awareness Week.

So, a warning for all you Internet savvy people; ‘Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014), Perhaps it is time to be mindful of what we are saying to people, especially online. After all, you never know when it might be you who are the victim of bullying, and not the perpetrator. I know it has made me think twice about posting things online and has certainly made me more wary of how I interact online. I don’t find the Internet my playground, and I don’t want to be teased. Therefore, the only answer is to step away from the keyboard, and make a cup of tea!


Buckelsa, E.E., Trapnellb, P.D. and Paulhusc, D.L. (2014) ‘Trolls Just Want To Have Fun’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 67, September, pp. 97-102.

MacKinnon, R. and Zuckerman, E. (2013) ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’, Digital Frontiers, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 14-24.

Phillips, W. (2011) ‘Meet The Trolls’, Index on Censorship, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 68-76.

Shin, J. (2008) ‘Morality and Internet Behavior: A study of the Internet Troll and its relation with morality on the Internet’, Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, Las Vegas, 2834-2840.

Vanderbilt, D. and Augustyn, M. (2010) ‘The Effects of Bullying’, Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 20, no. 7, July, pp. 315-320.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disappointed with the Result? Bear this in Mind!

Here in the UK, we have just had our General Election, which we have once every five years. Now, I know that some of you out there are going to be left feeling disappointed and disenfranchised, but others will be feeling the opposite (I will not be pledging my own Political allegiance here- I learnt at a very young age not to argue about Politics, Religion and music!). And this is where this blog is going- disappointment and how it affects our lives.

There is a general feeling of apathy and dysphoria in the Nation, at this moment in time- I am wondering, have you ever felt that in your life? Do you sometimes wonder where you are going with your life, why you are in a cycle of repeating mistakes, or just that you seem to be disappointed with your lot in life? We all do, at some point in our lives, but it can become a problem if this is our outlook for extended periods of time. In fact, for some people, even just a short period of time feeling like this can be extremely detrimental to their mental health. You know, ‘cos Mental Health Matters, don’t it?

Lots of people are sceptical about therapy- I encounter it all the time. “Oh, you’re a Psychologist? Read my mind then” or the other familiar “Oh. You’re a Psychologist.” Then nothing. They don’t want to talk because they think I will psychoanalyze them the whole time! This doesn’t happen, I just want you all to know this- even Psychologists need time off to kick off our DM’s and enjoy a party!

Saying that, there has been some articles in reputable UK publications of late, to do with something you may never have heard of; Mindfulness. “What is Mindfulness?” I hear you ask! The Dictionary definition of Therapeutic Mindfulness is;

“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

 I bet you’re thinking “Mumbo Jumbo?” Well, according to a recent study published in the most ‘reputable’ of medical publications, The Lancet (Kuyken, 2015), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is nearly as effective as taking prescription Antidepressants alone- out of 424 participants, after two years, 44% of the MBCT patients relapsed as opposed to 47% of Medication only patients. So, what does this tell us? Well, surprisingly, MBCT is more effective than first believed.

There are a few issues here, with the Mindfulness study- the scientific description of Mindfulness changes from provider to provider. Now, because it is available on the NHS, MBCT has proven its efficacy (that it works) and so, if it can work on the NHS, then maybe, going to a reputable provider (if seeking private therapy), will also be the same.

The main critique with this study is that the Mindfulness patients had already suffered three or four bouts of depression (depression can be a right b*gger that way) and were already on a maintenance dose of medication. The common thinking has been that the combination of talking therapies, be it MBCT or CBT or Person-Centered, with medication is the best form of support for someone with recurring depression.

So, where does this fit in with disappointment? Well, disappointment and depression can both be caused by life’s tribulations. In one study, disappointment was ascribed to being the resultant causes of ‘what might have been’ or the ‘outcome of unfavourable decisions’ (Zeelenberg et al., 1998). Sound familiar to anyone? Mixed up in there is also the emotion of regret; perhaps you regret your vote yesterday? Perhaps you regret making a decision that ‘could’ of had a more favourable outcome? Whatever it is, life is full of mistakes, disappointment and regret- as well as happiness, joy, love and positivity! The problems only come when these two opposing forces are unbalanced.

So, that Mindfulness stuff, eh? How does that work then? Well, MBCT blends Mindfulness with CBT, so we learn to be in the present, instead of focusing on the future and the past. It helps us to come to terms with the decisions we have made; the disappointment, the regret, and focus on the here and now and how we can make the most of our lives as they are.

MCBT looks at what is going on for you now, and how the impact can be lessened for you- it gives you a specific set of skills, to practice for everyday life. No, it is not just meditation, it is being mindful of what is happening, your surroundings and not skipping forward to the end result.

According to the London School of Economics, 1 in 6 adults will be affected by depression during their lifetimes. That is a significant number; really, a lot. So, if you are feeling that way, please know that you are not alone and there is help available.

If you are interested in Mindfulness based therapy, have a look at the NHS website for more information. Many of your local GP surgeries, in the UK, will also offer free courses in Mindfulness. So, what are you waiting for?


 

 

Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial; Dr Willem Kuyken, Rachel Hayes, PhD, Barbara Barrett, PhD, Richard Byng, PhD, Tim Dalgleish, PhD, David Kessler, PhD, Glyn Lewis, PhD, Edward Watkins, PhD, Claire Brejcha, BSc, Jessica Cardy, BSc, Aaron Causley, BSc, Suzanne Cowderoy, MSc, Alison Evans, MSc, Felix Gradinger, PhD, Surinder Kaur, BSc, Paul Lanham, Nicola Morant, PhD, Jonathan Richards, BSc, Pooja Shah, Harry Sutton, Rachael Vicary, PhD, Alice Weaver, BSc, Jenny Wilks, MSc, Matthew Williams, MSc, Rod S Taylor, PhD, Sarah Byford, PhD The Lancet, April 2015.

Zeelenberg, M., Dijk, W.W.v., S.R.Manstead, A. and Pligt, J.d. (1998) ‘The Experience of Regret and Disappointment’, Cognition and Emotion, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 221-230.

 

 

It’s May Day- Time To Break The Rules!

I spent the whole day in London, UK today. As I was leaving, there were crowds and crowds of people; traffic was snarled up and it was getting noisy. I had totally forgotten that today was May Day, and, as per the usual tradition, demonstrations were going on in our capitol. The voices were so loud- everyone there seemed to be clear about one thing; what they wanted.

It made me wonder, are we always clear about what we want? I know we like to think that we are, but are we, really? When it comes down to it, don’t a lot of us honestly think that people are mind readers- if we have been upset by something, we expect people to guess at what has upset us! It is then difficult to have a conversation; if you think you know what the other person means or intended, when actually, you’ve got it quite wrong! Does this ever happen to you? Maybe you have noticed that other people do it to you? Are we really being clear about what we want, or are we just hoping that others guess?

Relationships can be difficult, even at the best of times! Our relationships with out friends, partners and family are all different. The way we communicate with these people may also be different! We have expectations of people, and ourselves, that sometimes, just really aren’t sensible! Do you think that anger is a negative emotion? Do you think that it’s best to hold your anger in?

Well, it may (or may not!) surprise you to know that, actually, anger can be a very cathartic emotion! By expressing our anger, we are communicating our displeasure and upset to others- no need for mind reading here! If we bottle up our anger, we can become resentful; we expect people to know why we are angry (there’s the mind reading again!) and we don’t necessarily give them a chance to communicate with us about what is wrong!

If we supress our anger, we are a bit like a bottle of pop (no advertising here!) that has been shaken and shaken- when we take off the lid, the pop is going to explode outwards! Does that sound familiar to any of you? By supressing your anger, it can lead to your emotions coming out in other ways- sometimes by verbal explosion, sometimes physical, but none of them particularly helpful! So, what to do? Well, when you first start to get angry, I would suggest that this is the point at which you should express your anger- don’t wait until it builds up and leads to resentment. Violence, physical or verbal abuse is never the answer to being angry- perhaps dealing with your anger before it gets to tipping point, could help you to control the other emotions that spill out, when your anger gets too much.

Sometimes, we bottle up our anger and emotions, because that is what we were taught to do- from an early age! As we are born and grow, we are constantly surrounded by rules- some of them are there for good reason (don’t cross the road on a red light, for example!), but some of them are rules we have kind of inherited along the way. Did your parents ever teach you that ‘if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? This is an example of what we term ‘Rules for Living’ and is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy concept- sometimes our rules for living are just too difficult to live by; sometimes we need to soften them, to make things easier.

If you have a rule of ‘I must always be liked’, well, that’s a difficult rule to adhere to! Not everyone in this world can like everybody else, so, when your rule is broken, and somebody doesn’t like you (for whatever reason!), how does it make you feel? Do you feel good about it? Or do you feel terrible, guilty, and anxious or any other number of emotions? This is a very rigid rule to hold dear- perhaps you learnt it from your parents, or from school, church, your friends, the newspaper or social media. Wherever you have learnt it from, it isn’t helping you to get what you want in life- happiness. So, what can we do about it?

There are a number of things we need to do;

  • What is your rule? In this example, I am going to use the rule that ‘I must always be on time’
  • Where did the rule come from? In this case, we will assume parents (sorry Mum and Dad!)
  • Is your rule realistic? Is it reasonable? Is it achievable? No- sometimes you can’t help but be late- for example traffic queues. So this means it is not achievable.
  • What are the negative consequences of this rule- how does it impact your life? It makes me stressed all the time- I am constantly rushing around to be on time everywhere!

The rule came from our parents, who would always tell us to be on time as it is incredibly rude to be late, and only naughty people are late. As we have lived with this rule through growing up, it is something that we hold dear to us- after all, Mum and Dad are always right, aren’t they? This rule was then enforced when you went to school- remember being late for a class? Getting detention because you weren’t on time? Then you go to work, and the rule is again reinforced- it is wrong to be late!

But the thing is, life isn’t always straightforward- you’re rushing to get out of the house to meet friends for a play-date and the baby tips their milk all over them; which means that you need to change their clothes, making you late! There was a traffic accident on the way to your interview. The train was delayed. These are things that are simply beyond your control- you cannot change these. So, as you can see- being on time, always, is not reasonable rules to have- complications arise and for reasons beyond our control, sometimes, we are late!

So, what are the negative consequences of holding on tight to this rule? Well, rushing around to be on time all the time- how stressful is that? When you are late, and there is nothing you can do- do you beat yourself up about it? Do you feel cross and angry that you were late? What other negative impacts does your rule have on you?

Now you’ve worked out that your rule for living actually are hindering your goal in life- to be happy- what can you do about them? Well, you can do what we call to ‘soften’ the rules- turn a rule into a guideline. Be kinder to yourself and accept that sometimes, you just cannot be on time. Softening your rule from ‘I must always be on time’ to ‘I will try to be on time, but sometimes, this will not happen and I am ok with that’.

I am not saying this is easy to do, and it does take practice, but by doing this, you can make stressful or unpleasant situations a little easier for yourself. By softening your rules, you are hopefully not going to get as angry, and that bottle of pop isn’t going to explode everywhere! It seems so simple to do, but the tricky part here, is actually recognising your rules and working out how they affect you! We cant expect others to change for us, or to have the same rules for living that we do, but by softening our rules, it makes living with them much easier.

So, what’s stopping you? What are your rules and how do you think they are stopping you from getting what you want? It might not be happiness you are after; perhaps it is just not expecting everyone you meet to be polite. By making little changes to our lifestyles, we are making massive changes to our lives, and, over time, hopefully making our relationships and the way we deal with problems, a little better and a little easier!

So you’ve got ASD- Can you tell me how that feels!?

In short, No!


 

So, this week, I decided I was going to write about something that is very personal to me, but I have very little personal experience with- confusing or what? But I guess that is what happens to people on the Autistic Spectrum- they don’t get things that Neural Typical (NT’s) say, do or infer, and this is where this weeks blog begins; in celebration of Autism Awareness Month.

Our journey into the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is just beginning- I spent a long time last week on a training day, helping me to understand the complexities that ASD people and children experience. One of the main things I took from my training is that Autistic Spectrum Disorders really shouldn’t be called that- it’s a condition, not a disorder. It’s something you are living, not something that you dip in and out of, but for the sake of complexities and simplicity, I shall call it ASD, as this is what the condition is commonly known as.

Do you know someone with ASD? Would you even recognise someone with ASD? Do you even know what makes a person ASD? Approximately 700,000 people in the UK are living with ASD (that’s 1 in 100); so, the chances are you do know someone with ASD. The National Autistic Society describes Autism as;

“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.” (NAS, 2015)

That might seem pretty broad to you, and perhaps you may think that ‘I know people like that; they’re just rude though’, well, this might not be the case. Perhaps they are living with a condition that is shrouded in myth and mystery. ASD is a Spectrum disorder, which means that everyone on the spectrum experiences their Autism in a different way; which can make it difficult to spot sometimes- there is no ‘template’ for what someone with ASD should be like, so it is really important that if ASD is suspected, it is assessed properly, by a professional. Note, this in itself can alienate people- setting you out from the crowd as ‘different’ because you have been given a ‘diagnosis’.

Some ASD people, as in every walk of life, can be comforted by a diagnosis, and some may feel trapped by their diagnosis. Supporting the ASD person can include helping the person come to terms with what is going on for them. Yes, you may be a little different, but that doesn’t make you any less special!

In fact, people with ASD often develop special interests of fascinations-, which can make them experts in their chosen area! This doesn’t mean that all people on the AS are geniuses at maths, science and art; but if that is their chosen area of interest, then this can really be a bonus. Our experience is that the person on ASD is fascinated by maths, science and literature. They don’t get a lot of the social meaning in the books they are reading, but that doesn’t stop their enjoyment of it! If anything, it has increased their hunger and thirst for books and knowledge- how can that possibly be a bad thing?

There is an organisation called Specialistern who specialise in finding ASD people work- in various different environments, but in particular I.T, as the qualities that ASD people have (enjoyment of repetition, attention to detail and structure) mean that ASD people excel in these types of jobs! A complete celebration of the nuances of difference; totally dispelling the myth that ASD people cannot work. Quite the contrary, thank you very much!

People on the ASD spectrum find it difficult to socialise and often do not get sarcasm, empathy and the individual gradations of language and communication; logic makes sense to ASD people, emotions not so much, so imagine an instance of a job interview, where an ASD person is asked to say ‘What would you do when x happens?’ How terrifying would that be- knowing that you do not have the emotional range to express or understand what you are expected to. Quite a few people on the ASD find it difficult to maintain eye contact, which can sometimes appear as being offhand, disinterested or rude. Now, go back to the job interview; a candidate finds it difficult to look you in the eye. Do you think it’s because they are rude and have no social skills, or does it cross your mind that they actually might have a reason for not doing that.

Now, in cases of working in Customer Service, then perhaps not being able to maintain eye contact would be an issue. But, if you are working in a lab or at your desk, programming away, then does it really matter that you can’t hold eye contact? Should it stop you from getting a job? What about equal opportunities? Aren’t they for everyone? And, at the end of the day, not everyone, NT or ASD, is cut out for Customer Service!

Growing up with ASD can be a challenge; as kids, us NT’s are used to hanging out with our mates, socialising and generally being young, free and single and enjoying every minute of it. But with ASD, it’s not as simple. It can be hard to make friends; how difficult is that for a child? To see other people playing and laughing around you, but not being able to do that yourself? Some ASD people learn social skills- it doesn’t mean they get them, it just means that they have worked out that if someone smiles at you, you smile back, and if someone is sad or upset, you don’t stare blankly, but you say I am sorry you are upset. For us NT’s, this is normal, we take it for granted. But people on the ASD do not find this ‘normal’- we are the exception to their rule, so why don’t they get us?

But then, what we have found is that a child with ASD can use their special interest as a fantastic communication skill- it’s a conversation opener and ice-breaker! This is turn can help to raise self-esteem and improve communication skills. So, that subject you’ve been focusing on for as long as you can remember? Well, it could very well be something that can calm you and relax you when talking about it, so please, don’t stop focusing on what makes you happy!

People with ASD, although have difficulty in social interaction; it is a myth that they cannot have successful, loving relationships. All relationships can be difficult, in some ways, but when you find the right person, well, love conquers all, doesn’t it? People with ASD do feel emotions, they feel them very intensely, and because of this, they can be very overwhelmed with their emotions and how to understand and deal with them. This doesn’t make them unable to maintain relationships, but I can imagine that relationships can be very hard work for ASD people.

I have worked with a few ASD clients, and have found working with them very rewarding- I hope they felt the same! Working in therapy with ASD clients is slightly different to working with NT clients- asking a ASD client to ‘describe how x makes them feel’ will not garner you with much information; asking them to explain ‘what that is like for you’ can fill the room with an abundance of experiences, all rich in the context of human caring, empathy and concern.

Something I learnt last week, was that ASD people very often find visual representations easier to use to express the words they want to communicate- for example, drawing a rainbow and each colour represents a different emotion. So, instead of having to try and explain sadness, the ASD client can show the colour blue- how much easier is that, than having to struggle with meanings that are difficult to express?

ASD is a hidden condition- you cannot see it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Approximately 106,000 school age children in the UK have an ASD condition and support for those children and parents is paramount. A report by the National Autistic Society said that 63% of children with Autism had been bullied at school (Kathrine Bancroft, Amanda Batten, Sarah Lambert and Tom Madders, 2012). Isn’t that 63% too much? What is happening to tolerance of individual differences? What are we teaching our children about the diversities of life? Are they learning from our behaviour towards people who are different?

At the end of the day, we are all different, not matter what condition we do or do not have- this isn’t to trivialize the ASD experience- I am more asking that surely, in 2015, we can be accepting and tolerant of what we don’t understand? We can teach our children to be kind and patient and to understand that we are all different- be it size, shape, colour, gender, sexuality or even the way our minds work. After all, ASD people are tolerant of our differences, why can’t we be tolerant of theirs?


 

NAS (2012) The Way We Were, [Online], Available http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/50th-birthday/survey-report.aspx [21 April 2015]

NAS (2015) Facts about Autism, 12 January, [Online], Available: http://www.autism.org.uk/About-autism/Autism-an-introduction/What-is-autism.aspx [22 April 2015].

http://uk.specialisterne.com

 

 

“It’s Society’s Crime, Not Ours!”*

I was reading some fluffy ladies magazines this week (research, you understand!) when I was quite astounded by the way we view people in everyday life. I have young children, and already, by the time they are 5, they already know that they should be ‘thin’ and that why are some of their classmates even thinner than they are.

So, I was really interested to read this study I found, about age differences and body size stereotyping in preschool girls (Harriger, 2014)- 102 girls from the age of three to five were asked to consider twelve adjectives (six positive and six negative), and to allocate one of these adjectives to one of three females they were presented with. One female was very thin, one was very fat and the final female was average size. There were no other differences between these females.

The result, which I suppose should be unsurprising, is that the three, four and five year old girls ALL ascribed more of the negative adjectives to the fat female and the more positive adjectives to the very thin female.

The second part of the study was for the children to look at nine figures (three fat, three thin and three average) and to choose who their first three preferences would be for playmates, and then to choose a best friend from the selection of nine figures.

Children of all ages tended to choose the thin figure as their first choice, a thin or average person for their second choice and had no bias choices when ascribing their third playmate. However, best friend choices always tended to be the thin figure.

Surprisingly, the three year olds showed more of a bias towards thin figures, as opposed to a bias against fat figures- fat prejudice would appear to grow with age.

Now, this study was only in America, with young girls, so the study would need to be replicated world wide and to include boys into the demographic, but it makes for sobering reading, doesn’t it? The fact that even by the age of three, young girls are conditioned to prefer the company, and appearance of thin people.

Another article I read, just this morning, was from the Guardian newspaper, which suggests that thin people are more likely to suffer from dementia than larger people (Bosely, 2015). Wait just a moment. Hang on there- so; being thin might not be a good idea in the long term? So, another article I read, states that being overweight means that you will find it more difficult to get a job, due to fat bias, fearing that fat people are ‘lazy’ (Parry, 2015). Ok, what is going on here then? Am I supposed to be fat or am I supposed to be thin? Which one is it World? Come on, I AM WAITING!!!

Whichever size you are, surely what matters is how people respond to you; and herein lies the problem. People judge people, all the time. We can’t help it. Even the most non-judgemental person in the world has their bad days, or a subject that strikes a chord with them. But what about tolerance? What about caring for others?

The fact that three year old girls find thin people more acceptable than fat people shows a huge flaw in our society- no matter how much we want to be thin, for some people, for whatever reasons, that might just not happen. The same can be said for thin people- perhaps they wish they were a little larger, but can’t put on the weight.

I feel sadness for young people in this technological society- they can’t win. As demonstrated by the two different newspaper articles- you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When the newspapers get hold of a picture of a celebrity, on the beach, not looking their best, the headlines scream offensive comments about bulges, wobbly thighs, stretch marks and cellulite. The next day, the same celebrity is on the newsstands again, but this time, she is wearing a beautiful dress, showing off how thin she is- and the newspapers mock her for being too thin, and that she should put on more weight.

Our young people are bombarded by this media, 24/7 (yes, when you think your son/daughter is in bed sleeping, they are on Snapchat, Instagram or Oovoo with their friends, sharing pictures and stories and further perpetuating the beauty myth) and it is relentless people! The pressure on our young people, to be thin, to get a job, to get good grades, to get a partner, is immense. Somewhere along the line, we need to give them a break and support them to understand that we are all different and that is ok.

Some people, however, are taking a stand, and saying “NO” to the fat shaming- Plus size models such as Tess Holliday (@Tess_holliday) are standing up for women, in particular, and saying that my shape, your shape, their shape- it’s all ok! #effyourbeautystandards has become a moniker for the disaffected and is gathering momentum, which is vital when fighting societal prejudice!

So perhaps we need to start to normalise bodies at a much younger age- a thigh gap may not be achievable for your body frame, no matter how hard you try. Perhaps, like Kim Kardashian, you will always be a ‘shapely’ figure. Or perhaps you will always be as thin as Nicole Richie. I am not in any way saying that these women are healthy or not, or that they do or do not have issues with food or eating; I am merely commenting on their shape and size. And what I am saying is that both shape types are normal for society- some people are naturally curvy, and some people are naturally very thin.

As with anything, there are varying degrees of normal, whether you are on the lighter side of the scale, or the heavier- what is important, is body confidence and how you feel (health, is of course a big issue and I am not denying it’s importance). We need to ensure that our children are healthy, yes, but also that they see the differences in people, and that all differences are normal. Whether it is your weight, your religion or your sexuality- we are all NORMAL here!

These prejudices are a function of society and as such there is an aspect that you may not have considered. If there is a societal prejudice that an overweight person will be less competent than a thin person, this prejudice will also be held by overweight people, leading to an undermining of self-confidence in their abilities.

So I guess, the challenge for us all, will be to question the way we think about people we know, especially when they are acquaintances, rather than friends, and ask ourselves “Am I really being fair in my mind, whether it is conscious or not, as to what I am thinking and saying to that thin/fat person? Am I really crediting them with the skills that they actually have?” And more to the point, am I being fair to myself? Because this, being kind to yourself and increasing your self-confidence, can be hard to achieve.


 

 

Bosely, S. (2015) Society pages, 10 April, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/10/underweight-people-face-significantly-higher-risk-of-dementia-study-suggests [10 April 2015].

Harriger, J. (2014) ‘Age Differences in Body Size Stereotyping in a Sample of Preschool Girls’, Eating Disorders, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 177-190.

Parry, L. (2015) Mail Online, 8 April, [Online], Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3030815/Overweight-needn-t-bother-applying-job-Nearly-half-employers-unlikely-hire-fat-workers-fear-lazy.html [10 April 2015].

* Quote from Montegue Withnail, 1969

 

 

 

 

 

Why didn’t you like my Selfie?

Social media is really on my mind this week- I have several online presences; both personally and professionally. I find it hard to maintain them, but in this day and age, when most of our interactions with our friends seem to come from social media, what choice do we have? If you have your own business, then you will know as well as I, that it is essential to have a presence in the online world. But, how is this impacting us in our lives, and what impact is it having for our children?

Bare with me on this, and you will see where I am coming from- there is a psychological platform that is commonly used to study the psychological implications of social interaction called the Ultimatum game. The Ultimatum game relies on two people, one of which is in charge of dividing ‘resources’ between themselves and the other person who is the recipient (these resources can be anything- sweets, money, pencils, but it is usually money).

The person, who is dividing the money, is free to divide the resources in any manner they wish; the recipient can then accept or reject the first person’s offer. If the offer is accepted, say for example a 50/50 split, and then each party gets 50% of the resources. If there is a 70/30 spilt, and it is agreed, then the split is 70% to the divider and 30% to the recipient. If the recipient rejects the offer, then both parties get nothing.

The brain processes involved in the Ultimatum game were analysed (the most cited study of this is (Wout et al., 2006) ) and the results found that ‘unfair’ offers (offers 30% or less), when made by a human partner were rejected at a significantly higher rate than offers made by a computer. Thus suggesting that the participants involved had a much stronger emotional reaction to unfair offers from humans, than they did to the same offers from a computer.

So, what does that actually mean, and what does it have to do with Social media, I hear you ask! Well, this study shows that interacting with humans takes much more emotional involvement, and by default, more cognitive effort (the effort involved in making our brains work) than interacting with a computer.

So, again, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with Social media? Well, this generally means that interaction with a computer is easier for us, as it requires less emotional involvement and cognitive energy than talking to a human- when we talk to humans, 55% of our communication is through body language, 38% through tone and speed of your voice, and only 7% is actually through what we say (Aron, 1997). So when we interact with people, we are constantly paying attention to what is being said, but also the body movements, gestures, the tone of voice, the words that are being said and eye contact that is, or is not, being made.

This enables us to see and hear how people are feeling when they are speaking to us- that is not available to us when we are ‘talking’ from behind our keyboards! This means, to speak online, we need to use a lot less effort than we do when we are face to face- it is easier to hide our emotions online than it is to hide them in a face to face conversation.

By utilising Social media, the user is able to project a personality, expression, opinion, and a persona if you will, that may not be the same as the person that they ‘actually’ are. We all say things out of anger, or hurt, sometimes, but when we say it to the person themselves, we see the effect and reaction we get from being cruel- you do not get that when you are behind a screen.

When we are talking to someone who is in a particular emotional state, we are primed to enter that state ourselves (Dimberg, Thunberg and Elmehed, 2000)- meaning that when we are talking to each other, if our friend is sad, we are likely to become sad ourselves. This is sadly lost when interacting via a computer. Social media is a virtual form of interaction- meaning that the interaction takes on some of the qualities of being real, but is not in fact ‘real’. Therefore, how do we know what we are being presented with is in actual fact, real?

What’s so bad about that, then? Well, for most people, using social media is a form of remaining in contact, whether because there is a distance involved or you just want to let people know how you are doing- ever noticed how most people only really post when good things happen? As adults, we can generally regulate our use of Social media much easier than young teenagers or pre-teens can. Most children have access to the Internet now, and in particular Social Media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Oovoo and other messaging platforms. Whilst they are happily posting away about how good there day was, how much they love their Bae, the ‘banter’ at school, or the fact that Zayn Malik has left One Direction (see, I really am ‘down’ with the kids!), these young people are posting their hearts and lives and loves out in the open, for all to see. It is amazing to me, how many young people’s online accounts are open access; enabling anyone to read them. Or the fact that parents do not seem to be checking what their children are posting to these platforms.

So, here in lies the problem- if a young person is posting on Social media that they are depressed, sad, excited or happy, how do we know that this is really happening? Haven’t you ever just sent a text saying ‘I’m good’ when in actual fact, you have a headache, feel poorly or tired, or are feeling a little depressed, stressed or anxious?

Social media can be a disingenuous way of communicating- the persona we are projecting may not be the persona we actually have, and so who is regulating this? As adults, we would like to the think that we would think twice before we posted something that could be, potentially, offensive. But, young people live in the moment, they speak from their heart and not necessarily their heads- if they are posting offensive comments, perhaps it is down to peer group pressure, and not the actual person they are; who actually does have a very different set of beliefs.

So, where do we go from here? Should parents check their childrens Social Media accounts? Do we need to teach, or remind, our children about self-regulation? We assume that schools are doing the job, but isn’t it also the caregivers responsibility? As shown by the Ultimatum game, we don’t respond to computers in the same way that we respond to people- although there is a person at the end of the Social media platform, perhaps it is easier to say things we don’t necessarily mean on a computer, and then have regrets after?

And what about us as adults? Who regulates us, when we are incapable of regulating ourselves? What we need to remember is that what we put out there on Social Media is there forever, even if we do delete it. Recipients or viewers can take screenshots and keep the information. Whatever you are preparing to say, be it to your audience, a friend or possible romantic interest, ask yourself these questions- would I say it to their faces, if I were stood in front of them? And if you would, how would it make them feel?

 


Aron, A. (1997) ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings’, Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 23, no. 4, April, pp. 363-377.

Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M. and Elmehed, K. (2000) ‘Unconcious Facial Reactions To Emotional Facial Expressions’, Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 1, January, pp. 86 – 89.

Wout, M.v.’., Kahn, R.́.S., Sanfey, A.G. and Aleman, A.́. (2006) ‘Affective state and decision-making in the Ultimatum Game’, Experimental Brain Research, vol. 169, Jan, pp. 564-568.

 

 

Anger- Where are you when it comes to Communicating?

So, it is nearly mid week, and I have been busy at work- Counselling and Therapy is a job I love and have great passion for, so I am very lucky when I am busy! Somebody absolutely exploded in frustration at me today- it wasn’t my fault, but sometimes it is to be expected! However, after the explosion, the person said “I am sorry, I never lose my temper, ever. But, when I do, it is really explosive! It’s really wrong to be so angry”.

This got me thinking- is it really wrong to be so angry? And if it is, who told us it is? For me, anger is a way of expressing how I feel/felt at a situation- if I don’t express my anger, how is anyone to know that something is wrong? Maybe this comes from the fact that this is what my parents taught me to do, and as is well documented, what our parents teach us really does affect what we do in life!

A lot of the time we don’t express our anger- because we are afraid of the ramifications of doing so. But, this person expressed their anger towards me, when it really wasn’t my fault. So, who has been helped in this situation? Was it the person who was angry, or was no-one really helped? I mean, sure, getting the anger out of themselves was a great thing to do- sometimes, we are like a bottle of fizzy drink that has been shaken up. All that shaking up creates pressure, just as anger, bottled up, can create pressure, and at some point, as sure as the bottle will explode when opened, so will we when our anger gets too much to bottle up!

So, in some ways, anger is a good thing, right? Yes, but what could have made that situation easier? Perhaps talking to the person who angered you in the first place? Dealing with the main reason that you are angry, in a rational way? After all, none of us are mind readers, so how do we know that by discussing the issue, we won’t resolve it in a peaceful way; thus negating the need to bottle up and explode?

Counselling and Therapy can be really helpful when dealing with stressful emotions- the therapy room is a safe space to talk about what has upset you and made you angry. There are ways we can look at anger and how to deal with it. For example, relaxation and time for yourself can be really helpful when you are feeling stressed and angry. Did that ever occur to you? Perhaps taking some time out to have a long bath, a yoga lesson, a run, walk the dog or read a book can help calm you down. Maybe then, you could be in the right frame of mind to address the issue that has got you so angry in the first place?

Communication is SO important to everything in our lives- Dr Albert Mehrabian (Mehrabian, 1981)  pioneered language communication in the States and discovered that;

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said)
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression

So, if that is the case, even when our words are unspoken and our anger is bottled up, perhaps we are displaying our anger in other ways and maybe that is why people react to us in a negative fashion. Is this something you have experienced? I wonder?

Communication is so important in life- we are communicating all the time, all day long. Some of it is subconscious, some of it is very conscious. Some of it is controlled, and, as in the case of anger, not so controlled! Therefore, how do we communicate with people when we feel the need to vent our frustrations?

Are you a passive communicator? Do you put others needs before your own, only to find that, eventually, the frustration of it all gets too much? Sometimes, being passive is a wonderful asset, for example if you really do not mind which take-away you have tonight. But sometimes, it can get in the way- feeling that other people should come first, when you really wanted a Chinese tonight, but your partner has ordered Pizza. You sit and seethe silently, displaying all those non-verbal communicative, anger emotions towards your partner! Do you recognise this pattern?

Are you an Aggressive communicator? Are your needs greater than everyone else’s? Is that a really fair way to be? Does it get you far, or are you finding yourself angry all the time when other people challenge you? Perhaps it is time to try and be a bit more co-operative and see the other side of the story?

Are you Passive-Aggressive? Finding ways to ‘get your own back’ on people who have upset you, without letting them know they have actually upset you? Did your neighbours make a lot of noise until late last night, so this morning, you got up at 6am and revved your car engine knowing it would annoy them? Perhaps, with communication, you could discuss a resolution to the problem, instead of frustrating yourself even more?

And finally, are you an Assertive person? If something is troubling you, do you talk about it and work with your colleagues/friends/partner to resolve your issues? Do you consider the other persons side of the story?

I am sure, most of the time, we are a mixture of all of these, but perhaps thinking about what we want to achieve from the situation could help us- do we want to stay angry? Is it helping us to be angry? What would we really like to do? We all behave in these manners at some point, so, just to show that we are all human, and we all do theses behaviours, I have included an anonymous poll to fill in- just for fun!

Perhaps therapy will be a helpful way for you to work out what is going on for you, perhaps not. If you are unhappy with your anger issues, perhaps it is time to look at whats causing it, and change what you are not happy with? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be really helpful with looking at current anger related issues, but if the anger stems from an earlier time in your life, perhaps a longer term form of therapy and counselling would be more appropriate? Only you know what is going on for you and how you want to deal with it!


 

So, what type of Communicator are you?


Mehrabian, A. (1981) Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotions and attitudes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (currently distributed by Albert Mehrabian, email: am@kaaj.com)