Saturday, 30 July 2011

"What's your name?" "I don't know" Emotional neglect

When you reach your seventh decade, most news stories lose the power to shock. Sadly, most are variations of news that has gone before. This can be a cruel world.

Two reports did shock me this week:
1. Children attending school at four years old, do not recognise their names.

Children experiencing physical cruelty is horrible, shocking and criminal. Though it's not news, unless truly horrible and the media can play the blame game with social workers. Here I will plug my favourite and underfunded charity:   

Not recognising or knowing their name, may not, at first, seem to come under the child cruelty heading, but isn't it? It's not physical cruelty, but it suggests emotional neglect at a much deeper level. This report is not about one or two children either. It is about a number of children. It was that aspect I found shocking.

I am not naive. Thirty-five years ago, I recall the head teacher at the local primary school, asking the parents to make sure that their five-year-old children could obey simple commands, dress themselves, were toilet trained and hold a knife and fork. Eating together as a family at table was disappearing. She didn't ask that they knew their names. Nearly all the children that attended the school could be regarded as coming from middle-class homes.

Forty-five years ago, when I was helping at a private nursery school, a delightful, but silent three-year-old little girl attended. She didn't speak because her 'well to do' mother hadn't spoken to her.  She had been quite surprised that she was supposed to. Seen, but not heard perhaps?

The horrors of the schools in Charles Dickens's books also come to mind. Are we returning to Victorian times, despite our material riches?

As for blame, I note that television and computers are mentioned in the article. But are they the real culprits?

I'm going to suggest something more fundamental to childcare and very rarely mentioned in articles about children and communication.

Front-facing pushchairs. I dislike them intensely. Always have done.

Have a look around any city, town or village. Small children are being pushed away from their carer. There is no eye contact, let alone verbal contact. The child stares into oblivion. No wonder so many children have tantrums being restrained in them. 

The carer may stop to talk to someone or go into a shop. The child slumps, staring silently into space.

I believe that the front-facing pushchair was developed to make life easier for parents. I seem to recall the Maclaren's buggy being thought revolutionary, as it folded up so easily and was light. Other manufacturers jumped on board with their versions. 

Out of interest I thought I'd have a google. It would appear that front-facing pushchairs are expensive and more difficult to purchase. Then I found the following. Oh dear, the blindingly obvious again.

Choosing a reversible or rear-facing pushchair
Over the past twelve months we have seen an increasing 

number of reversible pushchairs on the market. Manufacturers

 have extended their range of rear facing pushchairs, and 

when you think about it, the reason is obvious. If you have 

ever tried to talk to the back of someone’s head whilst 

standing above them, conversation is virtually impossible!

A campaign run by the National Literacy Trust encourages parents and carers to talk more to children from birth to three. The Reversible pushchair allows you to face your baby towards you, especially useful in the early months as it’s nice to be able to keep an eye on your little ‘bundle of joy’. They enjoy having eye contact with you; recognize your face and you can talk to your baby as you stroll along. As they get a little older and start to sit up you can face them away from you, giving them a totally different view, watching the world go by – keeping them amused.Over the past twelve months we have seen an increasing number of reversible pushchairs on the market. Manufacturers have extended their range of rear facing pushchairs, and when you think about it, the reason is obvious. If you have ever tried to talk to the back of someone’s head whilst standing above them, conversation is virtually impossible!

It's almost laughable to read, but behind the comments are children lacking opportunities for communication. It's serious.

Now we have the mobile phone too. I'm a avid fan of the smart phone and use mine constantly. But not when I take my grandchildren to their local park. The London park is popular with mums and child carers. There are fenced off areas and children are let out of their pushchairs. The mums and carers sit and communicate...with their phones.

I observe so many lost opportunities for conversation. Though to balance the argument, there are parents who, perhaps try too hard. In the supermarket, everything is explained, sometimes laboriously to the child, while other people to complete their shopping. One particular mother from twenty years ago comes to mind and I inwardly groan. 

What the heck, parents can't do anything right can they? And to those parents with nameless children, we can only wonder at their role models. Where are the other people than could teach the child their name. Grandparents, neighbours, friends? I still wonder at the rest of the child's home life, if they don't know their own name. A headmaster was quoted elsewhere that some children don't recognise their name, if it is spoken softly in a normal tone. 

The headmaster's comment reminded me was walking behind a perfectly ordinary family a couple of months ago. The little boy ran on ahead. The mother shouted, "Oi!" The little boy stopped and looked back.  I mused then, if the little boy's name was 'Oi'. Not funny though.

A child who has not had their needs met for attention, love, fun and friendship or has them met unhealthily may survive in life, but they will not thrive and the consequences are likely to be experienced for decades.

2. The other report that genuinely horrified me, but wasn't surprising was:

My views have already been aired elsewhere on this blog, so I won't repeat them.
But anger can be a useful emotion if used properly.

I have made a decision to take my blog on the road, so to speak. In the autumn I will resume my talks. It may only be a drop in the ocean, but if we can make a difference to just one person, it's all worthwhile.


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

"I'm clever". Are you intelligent though? IQ and EQ

Since the weekend, thousands of words have been written about the death of the singer, Amy Winehouse and the Norweigan mass murderer, Anders Behring Brevik.

Amy Winehouse (AW) regularly pressed her own self destruct button, while Anders Behring Brevik (ABB) destroyed other people's lives.

Could there be any common link at all between the behaviour of these two, wildly differing people? It would seem unlikely. I would suggest that there was. Their Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ).  Their Intellectual Intelligence would appear as high, as the their Emotional Intelligence is low.

In reading about these two people, I have also to take into consideration whether I am reading facts or opinions and gossip. This blog is my own opinion based on what I understand to be facts, but are not proven.

Whether AW's music is to someone's taste or not, I will accept from those who have considerable musical talent themselves, that she had writing and singing abilities that were high on the scale of brilliance. Maybe to genius level. A comment was made that AW couldn't possibly be a genius, because of her substance abuse. Though, wasn't it was obvious to all, that AW was a very unhappy woman?  Her emotions appeared unbalanced. There is evidence, that at times, she was just a lost little girl. Thumb sucking adults beg questions about their EQ, however high their IQ is.

ABB has been called intelligent. I assume he must have had a certain level of intelligence to organise his activities to the level it appears he has done. There has been mention that he showed 'no emotion' and was 'emotionless', possibly due to high drug consumption. But was he not passionate about his opinions? Was he not angry? Are these not emotions?

It has also been reported that ABB was indulged by a highly besotted mother. I heard those words used about my father in the 1960s and he also had obsessions, that reached government level. His tantrums were legend, even into his 80s and he was always right.

I am sure the 'nature versus nuture' argument will rage for a long time about these two people. I am in no position to analyse them, so will not. I will use the opportunity to highlight a difference between IQ and EQ and how I believe we concentrate on the importance of the former, at the expense of the latter.

I am fascinated by people's backgrounds, their childhoods particularly. I greedily read about background information on someone involved in an incident or event. The adult experiences are of interest, but I have a 'homing instinct' for signs of emotional immaturity. I look for certain words. They are nearly always present in some form or other, written by a commentator, an opinion maker or the person themselves. 

They "didn't feel good enough". I have read these words in articles about AW and ABB.

I think my husband is a little bored by the predictability of my 'Got it!' moments, but he too can become frustrated, when the blindingly obvious leaps from the pages of the research he undertakes into the usability of buildings.

Those childhood feelings of "not being good enough..." in some way, can be the motivating emotions behind a great deal of adult behaviour.  Both helpful and unhelpful. These feelings have a strong connection with fear and trauma too.

The majority of people grow up chronologically and physically on a gentle curve. Intellectual growth can be seen to develop in a more irregular way. But emotional growth is completely different.  For evidence, look at expressions like 'emotionally stunted', 'grow up', 'act you age' and there are many others.

In a social conversation with an intelligent person in their fifties, they told me that they were still looking for a life partner who matched their lost love of 30 years ago. They still carried around a photo with them. Their professional work was that of a mature brain. They looked middle aged. But their emotional age?  For all the evidence of intellectual intelligence, their emotional intelligence seemed lacking. Back to emotional memory matching again, but with the possibility of unsatisfactory consequences. I thought it was sad.

I spent much of the first thirty seven years of my life, thinking that because I don't have the abilities to concentrate, assimilate information, process academic arguments written in complicated language, write complex arguments or pass most exams, that I was stupid and not intelligent.  Attending a school with an academic bias didn't help.

People with high IQs can be seen making great achievements. But go to any institution packed with high IQs and there will be plenty of emotional incontinence on show too. Educators are slowly becoming aware of the need to include lessons in emotional intelligence too.

It never occurred to me, as an early morning shelf filler in a supermarket, that I could possibly be capable of doing any other job in the shop. I was also running a playgroup, but that didn't need a high IQ either. (The nursery nurse exams were not academic in 1968.) It did need common sense, intuition and a level of emotional intelligence.

In 1986, Sport Aid, later to be Sports Relief, launched its first event.  I organised a local fun run in the local village. It was very successful and I received a great many compliments. But it hadn't really been that difficult to do and I couldn't understand the compliments. Anyone could have done it. After all, I was stupid wasn't I?

A few months later, I felt brave enough to ask the supermarket manager whether I could go on the management training course. I had looked at some of the managers and thought, "I could do that'. Indeed I could and The John Lewis Partnership showed me the way. I have much to thank them for.  Perhaps I should thank the amazing founder, John Speden Lewis, who had such vision in 1920.

For many years I was intimidated by anything intellectual. Then one day, when I was Checkout Manager (I had progressed in the supermarket) I was invited to lunch with an academic professor. I was truly concerned that I would embarrass myself.  He and his wife were welcoming and not intimidating. She asked me what work I did. I took a deep breath and told her.

"How brave of you to admit that", she said.

"How ignorant you are," I thought.

In fact, I discovered last year, that the supermarkets are still using a matrix I designed in 1994, because "technology hasn't come up with anything better."

After that lunch, I began to gain confidence and realised that my failure to understand or process complexity, did not mean that I was stupid. I was unable to be 'blinded by science'. Though people have tried. It has saved me a great deal of time and trouble. I have a tendency to be able to see the facts through the waffle.

This knowledge has helped me have the confidence to write this blog. Despite it being called 'facile', by a reader, I will not be put off. It's not meant to be academic and psychobabble. Due to readers' feedback, I know that it is proving helpful to enough people to make it worthwhile.

One of the few school lessons I enjoyed was English precis. We would be given long magazine articles or passages out of books and we had to reduce to content by a third, but retain its meaning.  

This skill came back to help me in the 1980s, when I was editing a weekly 'Talking Newspaper for the Blind'. To reduce the weekly local paper into an enjoyable 45 minute tape could be a challenging exercise.

I could precis psychology too...but not yet. Anyway who's going to listen to me? It makes too much money for organisations and people.  I won't give up though. I've witnessed too much distress and loss of life.

I think a precis has already been written in allegorical form. It's called 'The Kings New Clothes' by Hans Christian Anderson.

That is why at the top of the every blog page you will find the following quote: 
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense." Buddha


Saturday, 23 July 2011

"I'm very, very scared." Trauma

Last night my friend and colleague Sue Hanisch from Cumbria, sent a text to me. She's in the area, could she visit on Saturday afternoon?  In all day, I replied.

This morning I woke to the senseless tragedy that has happened in Norway. A bomb blast in Oslo and a massacre of teenagers on an island.

Is there a connection? Sadly, yes. Sue was in Victoria Station on February 18th, 1991, when a bomb went off in the waste bin next to the telephone booth she was standing in.

I have mentioned Sue before. I wrote about panicking in a thunderstorm. We were travelling in Australia, giving workshops in three states. I first met Sue in 2001, when I was facilitating on the diploma course that she was taking.  I was present when she underwent a de-traumatising therapeutic session with one of the tutors. It worked.

I have spent fifteen years being involved with people showing various degrees of reactions to trauma. It could be 100% Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), developed from exposure to a very frightening or threatening event. Or similar symptoms arising from a lower level of exposure to something that the person found frightening. It can have been real or perceived.

Extreme fear is the common emotion.

Most people have heard of PTSD, but few will know the diagnostic criteria.

PTSD is the development of characteristic and persistent symptoms along with difficulty functioning after exposure to a life or integrity threatening experience or to an event that either involves a threat to life, integrity or serious injury. 

In some cases the symptoms of PTSD disappear with time. Whereas in other cases they persist for many years. Why this happens has a great deal to do with the person getting other needs met healthily.

The symptoms required for the diagnosis of PTSD may be divided into 3 clusters and should be present for at least 1 month.
  • Intrusion or re-experiencing - memories of the trauma or "flashbacks" that occur unexpectedly; these may include nightmares, intrusive mental images or extreme emotional distress and/or physiological reactivity on exposure to reminders of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance - avoiding people, places, thoughts, or activities that bring back memories of the trauma; this may involve feeling numb or emotionless, withdrawing from family and friends, or "self-medicating" by abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Hyperarousal - feeling "on guard" or irritable, having sleep problems, having difficulty concentrating, feeling overly alert and being easily startled, having sudden outbursts of anger

PTSD can often go unrecognised and undiagnosed. Panic attacks can be misdiagnosed as a symptom of physical ill health, rather than emotional imbalance. 

A friend M had suddenly married her long time partner. I rang to give her my good wishes. She explained that she had been due to undergo a brain operation and they thought they should legalise matters beforehand. I was shocked and asked her what happened.

She told me that she had gone for an eye test. The optician had mentioned that there was some age related deterioration in one eye. The word blindness was mentioned.  Going blind had always been M's greatest fear in life. M left the shop and felt very dizzy and sick. A trip to the GP revealed that she had high blood pressure and needed further investigations. There was a suggestion of a brain tumour. M's parents are very wealthy. They paid for her to go the best doctors.  I believe the USA was involved.

The decision was made for her to undergo a brain operation, just one blood test was remaining. She got married. The blood test proved negative. The operation was called off.

I said, " Forgive me saying, but it sounds as if you had a panic attack outside the shop."  She agreed that was being suggested now. She asked me how I knew.

In previous blogs I have mentioned 'emotional memory matching'. I haven't yet mentioned our built-in, personal safety alarm system.

Houses have fire alarms. The alarm makes a loud noise.  Our brains have an amygdala. It switches on or 'fight, flight or freeze' reaction. We can also make a loud noise...or just crumple in a shaking mass...or do something anywhere in-between.

The house alarms are more sophisticated than they used to be. The alarm couldn't tell the difference between life threatening smoke from a fire and someone smoking a cigarette or the sausages being well grilled. Our safety alarm sometimes can't tell the difference either. "What's that smell?" Heart rate increases, we becomes breathless, feel nauseous, palms become sweaty etc..

If you have ever experienced PTSD or known someone that does, the diagnostic criteria may be familiar to you. But look at the criteria again and think about a behaviour that you may have. Maybe a phobia? Maybe an over-reaction to something or somebody? Perhaps an avoidance of some sort? You are unlikely to be experiencing full blown PTSD, but what about something called sub-threshold trauma?

E.g: Many people will have a strong reaction to their school uniform colour, avoiding it at all costs in their life, in all manner of objects, even decades later.  

Phobias are built on these foundations. Which is why so many people think their fears will be judged as illogical by others. Because, generally, they are. The fear is real, but in the majority of cases, will be built on an emotional memory match that has become distorted in time. The past mixed up with the present. I find phobias fascinating to work with, as the original memory match is discovered.

So that's it is it? Got it for for life? No!!

As previously stated, the symptoms may go away. They may not develop fully. Hundreds of people can experience a similar horrifying event, such as a train crash or bomb explosion. Some people will develop PTSD, some won't. Why? The whole of the person's life needs to be looked at.  Those people getting their needs met in a healthy way are less likely to develop PTSD.

My friend Sue, developed PTSD, mainly due to the legal process after the bomb attack. The years of continually re-telling and re-living of the events lead to the memories becoming toxic. The continual emphasis was on everything she had lost and couldn't do any more, due to the injuries to her legs.

I'm sure most people think that medical people know what they are doing in psychiatry. Not necessarily. I worked on an acute psychiatric unit. I had learnt about trauma and 'emotional memory matching' elsewhere, but was only a nursing assistant. There was an ex service man with PTSD. He was terrified...and medicated.

He was encouraged to attend a group relaxation session. He lay on the floor with the others. A very pleasant woman put on some soothing background music. She started to ask people to imagine themselves in a restful place...imagine a green field...

The man shot up, shaking like a leaf and ran out of the room. In the staff room, it was assumed that he was attention seeking. I was horrified, but impotent. The man had served in Bosnia and had been blown up by a land mine in a field. 

It was incidents like that that made me qualify and set up my own practice. I sometimes use relaxation techniques, as part of the therapy. But I would never use a 'one size fits all' script.  I use the client's own suggestions and am permissive with the language used, not prescriptive. 

Other people who trained with me, have taken the injustices in treatment further.  They have set up a charity specifically for servicemen:  Please pass the link on to anyone in the services you may know who could benefit.

I will still see people with PTSD, but have become far more interested in sub-threshold trauma. I believe that I have seen evidence of sub threshold trauma in a great many clients. 

Something happens to a person in childhood. They feel in danger or at the least frightened. It might be physical or emotional threat.  It may be real. It may just be perceived, but no less of a threat. (A child's brain doesn't see the bigger picture.) 

As they mature, they grow up physically, intellectually and chronologically. But emotionally? Are they stuck sometimes? Are there certain 'buttons' that can get pressed that cause the emotional brain to regress and behave as if the 'fight, flight or freeze' button has been pressed? Could they be 'frozen in time? I believe so.

Meanwhile, Sue turned up. She's gone now, but not before she told me how she's attempting to get a unit for homecoming service personnel opened in the Lake District. She's seen the building. It would cost £1,500,000.  She is seeking backing from Help for Heroes and is going to the Big Lottery Fund.

Sue told me that The Big Lottery Fund has £43,000,000 earmarked for research into PTSD. Forces in Mind. This is both good news, but shocking too.  

£43,000,000 for research. But the research is already out there. We know about PTSD. We already know about therapies that work and those that don't. The evidence is available.

Put the money into therapeutic centres that sick service personnel can come home to. Places away from military bases and associated memories. Employ therapists who know how to treat PTSD quickly, without making the trauma even more toxic.

The money is sitting there now. Please let's use the money to help now. Not prolong the agony for sick people and their families.

Time may be a healer, but time can run out for us all.


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

"It looked like this..." "No, it didn't!"

On Monday I travelled to London on a train.  A fellow traveller had a shopping bag with a quote on it. It was in French and by the artist Henri Matisse. As a serial French 'O' level failure, I managed to translate most of it and with the bonus of having a 'smart' phone, I immediately looked it up. I had the subject for today's blog. 
Er...not quite. Events have hijacked me. I cannot write a topical blog without reference to the goings on in the British parliament yesterday. Or to be accurate, in a committee room in a contentious modern building across the road from Big Ben and Houses of Parliament.

What a strange day it was yesterday. I was away from home, in my grandparent’s and father's old flat having a de-clutter. Going through 100 years worth of photos and papers provided fascinating moments and could have entertained me all day. But I couldn’t give my full attention to what I was supposed to be doing.
I begun to watch the proceedings in the committee room and became riveted for hours. I tried to do work with the radio in the background, instead of sitting in front of the TV, but found the actual watching of the people involved, hypnotic. One person's boring can be another person's excitement. e.g: the most boring film I have ever seen was '2001 - A Space Odyssey.' Not everyone has thought the same.

As there are readers of this blog from all round the world, I will put the events into context. There was an 80 year old Australian called Rupert Murdoch, a man who has a global newspaper and TV empire. He was with his son, James, who is his deputy. They had been called to answer questions, put to them by Members of
Parliament.  Reporters on their papers, had been shown to be getting information by illegal means, such as, phone hacking and paying policemen. 
I was multi-tasking. I had my eyes on the TV and my ears on the radio. I was also engaged in reading a Twitter stream, with comments from a variety of political commentators and the general public. As I’ve said before, I like to look at the bigger picture before forming opinions.

Our brain take cues from the senses and looks for a memory match. Exact or similar in some way. Hence on the Twitter stream, the elderly man and smooth, younger man quickly became Burns and Smithers from 'The Simpsons'. Except I don’t watch 'The Sipmsons', so didn’t really know who they were. When an image was posted, I could see what people were alluding too. That was their pattern.

I saw a crumpled old man, who appeared to be like a deflated balloon. His young wife, sat behind him showing concern for him at times. I thought she was a nurse figure. He reminded me a bit of my father, especially when he was being belligerent.  Was this man a tyrant? A man who had governments quaking in their boots? It was no surprise that as proceedings carried on, that other observers thought the scene resembled the end of the ' The Wizard of Oz.', when the powerful wizard is revealed as an ordinary old man, hiding behind a curtain, using tricks to appear powerful.
This was about the cynical world of the media. The manipulation of facts is paramount. Was I being manipulated?  Were there 'magic tricks' being played?  There had been mention that the men might have been coached. Was Murdoch Snr 'acting' and appealing for sympathy?  I watched for the dropping of the ‘act’, but it didn’t happen in three hours of questioning, so I am left with believing that the slightly doddery, hard of hearing, past his best, man I saw was mostly ‘for real’. Though I still harbour doubts.
Murdoch Jnr was another matter. A robotic performance with pat phrases wheeled out so often that two thirds of the way through, I wrote a summary of his evidence on Twitter. “ That is a very important question and I wasn’t there at the time.”

Just when the questioning looked to be drawing to a close, a member of the general public tried to push a plate full of shaving foam into Murdoch Snr's face. Fortunately, the foam wasn't a substance or object more dangerous and everyone recovered their composure quickly. Personally I feel that the security guards should have to account for themselves and the quality of their searching. It could have been a whole lot nastier.

Bizarrely, the Twitter stream quickly revealed that the pie thrower had been a 'plinther'. That is one of 2,400 people chosen to stand on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square for one hour in 2009. I was incredibly fortunate to have been one of those 'plinthers' too. A strange day was getting stranger.

I was interested to know how the national newspapers today would interpret all that had happened. I haven’t read them all, but just the front pages told me what I want to know. How did they they see what I saw? How have they interpreted yesterday’s events? Very differently, as would be expected. Read for yourselves.

The Conservative supporting Telegraph:

As the film repeated the 'pie throwing' incident over and over, I became interested in the reactions of the other people in the room.   I was drawn to the differing body language of all the people in the room, as they reacted to the incident. I added my own interpretation to what I saw. Thus I made judgements of certain people. 

Try it for yourselves:

Our brains will make their own individual own particular ‘memory matches’ from the images triggered and emotions raised. This particularly comes into play in family situations and can cause a great deal of grief and resentment.
All siblings will have different memories. Siblings who have gone into print with a memoir can create a lifetime of estrangement. The siblings may have shared the same experience, but do not feel the same emotions about it or the people involved.

No experience should be denied, people will experience things differently.
Sometimes we need to accept that fact, however difficult it may be.