Children live what they learn
Photo by Madison Inouye
This week is Mental Health Week; a week when we are reminded to give a thought to the part of our being that, for too long, may have lived in the shadowlands of our existence. We might not hesitate in seeing a doctor if we have a physical concern, but when I ask someone if they have spoken to their GP about an emotional difficulty, more often than not, the answer is: "no". Why is this, I wonder, especially now, at a time when support services are advertised widely and when there is so much publicity around mental health matters.
My experience of working with adults has taught me that taking the first step in acknowledging a problem is often an almighty leap and one that exposes our vulnerability at the most fundamental of levels. Whether we have the courage to admit to someone else that we have a problem can prove very tricky indeed and may be a step too far. So, then what? For many, it will mean a lifetime of living with internalised feelings and emotions that may well impact on the individual's capacity to function well, both personally and within relationships.
It seems that the ability to reach out and draw support, either from a personal network or from a health professional, may well depend on our deeply rooted beliefs and values. As I was reflecting around our British culture, I was mindful of the phrase "keeping a stiff upper lip", which has become synonymous within our culture over the centuries. A trembling upper lip might often be interpreted as a weakness, so keeping a stiff upper lip demonstrates a level of courage and stoicism, which is to be commended. We often see these attitudes reflected in the art and literature of Victorian society and they appear to have served us well during two world wars and beyond. For men, particularly, courage and stoicism were important attributes as they sought to reassure their women-folk and keep family and community-life together. Historically, women were often considered the "weaker sex" and, despite the best efforts of the first women's suffrage movement in the nineteenth century, the perceived wisdom was that the role of the man was to provide, protect and remain strong.
Thankfully, attitudes appear to have shifted somewhat over the years since but, based on my work with men, I can't help but think that often, and unwittingly, our boys grow up to believe that they still need to demonstrate that same level of courage and stoicism that our forebears did. However, as highlighted earlier, it could be argued that the way in which we respond is typically a reflection of our various religious, community and familial beliefs and values. It appears that the extent to which we are able to acknowledge the frailty of our human condition will very much depend on our cultural norms.
Interestingly, it is not unusual for me to hear parents say that they will avoid becoming emotional in front of their children, simply because they don't want to upset them. Whilst I understand the sentiment, I do wonder what we are teaching our children about emotional expression. Despite our best efforts, it seems to me that we cannot protect our children from a lifetime of potential difficult or distressing events. As the saying goes, children live what they learn, but if they perceive from an early age that it is not acceptable to express feelings or emotions, how will they develop the resilience to cope with those difficulties later on? At the very least, there may well be an element of shame around admitting to a problem, which in turn may prevent the individual from accessing support.
If you are reading this and can identify with what I have said, I encourage you to reach out if you are struggling. If you find it difficult to talk to those around you, professional support may well enable you to make sense of the complex nature of being human. It is an opportunity to understand what motivates you to behave in the way that you do and an opportunity to find a more balanced way of living. If Mental Health Week is to teach us anything, I hope that it teaches us not to suffer in silence, but to seek appropriate support.
Stay safe and be kind to yourself, Jan
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
I wonder how you are bearing up in these difficult times? At this time last year who would have thought that we, along with our fellow citizens around the world, would now be confined to our immediate environment and perhaps isolated from those who mean the most to us. On a daily basis we are exposed to news coverage that frightens us, overwhelms us and brings us face to face with our own mortality. Seldom before have we experienced such a threat, with no immediate viable solution. With good reason, this might feel like a terrifying world to exist in right now.
The world continues to turn and the general order of things continues as it always has but, for us as human beings, the way in which we live our lives has changed beyond recognition. Enforced confinement is bound to have a huge physical and psychological impact and, at this stage, whilst I can only imagine the outcome, I live with a sense of foreboding about the potential for immense trauma when this crisis is resolved. But, imagination is a very dangerous thing, and imagining what might happen in the future not only consumes our energy, but also gives rise to the potential for an escalation of anxiety, stress and depression.
For many living with these, or other mental or physical health conditions, it may well be a time of great suffering. If you find yourself in this situation, I would encourage you to maintain close contact with your GP and/or your therapist or other healthcare professional. I am mindful that some people are reluctant to "bother" their GP at this difficult time, but it is essential that any escalation of symptoms is carefully monitored and treated to minimise the potential for crisis.
As traumatic as this confinement is, it seems to me that one of the most effective ways of overcoming the difficulties associated with it is to accept the conditions that have been imposed on us by our government and to find a way of living as well and as safely as possible. As I write, I am mindful that there are some who are living in difficult domestic situations and where there is real hardship. Many may be struggling with domestic violence of one form or another, others may be experiencing the trauma of losing their job. Some may be relying on food banks, or on the generosity of others to put a meal on the table. Some may be living with the grief of losing a loved one unexpectedly. Others may be alone or lonely. If this is your reality, then I encourage you to seek out the support that you need, be it professional support, or the support of family, friends or neighbours. Even if this is not something that you would normally do, as human beings we are all vulnerable and there are times in our lives when we all need the support of others. Rather than exposing a weakness, it takes great strength to reach out and I would encourage you to do so. These are exceptional times and it calls for an exceptional response from all of us.
In this time of hardship and uncertainty, the only thing that any of us can be reasonably sure about is what is happening to us now. Worry about what may or may not happen in the future is futile; what happens now will inform our future and, to that end, this time in isolation may well prove to be useful. We may, at least, have the opportunity to improve the quality of our relationships, after all, we were never meant to live in a state of isolation. It is encouraging to see the many ways in which communities, families and friends are coming together to make things better for all of us. It is amazing and heart-warming and may it last long after life returns to normal.
But what is "normal"? It seems to me that now is as good a time as any to ponder this question. What has been your normality? Has it been a life lived well; a life of balance in all things? Or has it been a life in which you have struggled to achieve your personal and/or professional goals? Now is as good a time as any to ask ourselves how we use our personal resources and the abundant resources our world offers us. What is it that we need to do in order to live well and to preserve not only our own lives and those whom we care about, but also in order to preserve the planet on which we live?
I wish you well in your deliberations and whatever happens in your world, I hope that you have the support and resilience you need to overcome these difficulties.
New Year … New You
Well, here we are in 2020 and I wonder where the last year disappeared to! I started 2019 with a whole new list of priorities for my personal and professional life and with hopes that I might realise some of the dreams on my "bucket list". I knew where I was going and I was fairly certain about how I was going to get there. However, best laid plans and all that!
I wonder whether your year turned out how you had planned it: whether you achieved your professional goals and whether you realised some of your personal dreams. If so, I applaud you, if not, I sympathise, especially as not all of my dreams came true and some of my professional goals were not fully realised either.
I was listening to someone speak the other day about that "flat" feeling we can experience after the hype of Christmas. I was surprised when this happened to me this year (actually, last year now), particularly as I had been feeling full of hope for the new year ahead. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure of myself anymore; I wasn't sure about my capacity to achieve my goals professionally and this certainly stopped me in my tracks.
But, as is my wont, I was able to take a step back from my plight and reflect around what was creating this real sense of dis-ease. This almost "limbo" like state between Christmas and New year was the ideal time to re-assess my very existence and not just my priorities. To help me in this task was the wonderful Charlie Mackesy (www.charliemackesy.com and on Instagram). I was very fortunate to receive his book: "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse" as a gift and I recommend his wisdom to you if you don't know of him. "What do you think success is?" asked the boy "To love" said the mole. I wonder what these words say to you as you think about what success means in your life?
As an Existential therapist, I would have to agree with the boy. It starts with me and my capacity to love myself. In life, we can be beaten down by our perceived lack of success, whether at work, in our relationships and in how we work out our personal situation: the home we live in, the car we drive, how much money we have in our purse or our wallet. We measure ourselves against those around us and it is very easy to see failure if we perceive that someone is achieving more than us. As human beings it is easy to lose sight of what is actually important. Do I give more attention to achieving material wealth or professional achievement than I do to my mental health and sense of wellbeing? In a material world it seems that this is so often the case and then what?
Far from being selfish, to love myself means having that innate confidence to face the world with a sense of certainty that I'm ok and what I have to contribute to the world around me is ok too. I appreciate that this is not always easy to grasp, especially if we have grown up with a sense that we can never be good enough, or if we live in a world where our contribution is not valued. If this is the case for you and you are struggling to overcome these barriers, then I would encourage you to consider some support around this.
Of course, to love can be one of the most difficult things we can ever do, particularly if it is something that we have never experienced or if we have lost it along the way, for whatever reason. It seems to me that to love is a risky business because it puts us in a state of vulnerability. Love is about honesty and openness; it is about being brave; it about taking risks in all areas of our life. It is about knowing self, it is about knowing others and it is about self-respect and mutual respect. It is about communicating our needs, our wants, what we can offer others and what we can draw from others.
It seems to me that I can only understand myself through relationship with others and so my journey to success begins here, right now, in this New Year.
JR Corporate Health blogs cover topics such as management support, supervision, psychological support, critical incident support and wellbeing in the workplace.