Sunday, 27 November 2011

"Act your age!", "Grow up" etc:

The news is particularly full of the unfairness of life at the moment.  I can't listen to phone-in programmes. The quality of conversation and argument is poor and solely driven by high emotion, to grab an audience. eg: Jeremy Kyle TV programmes and their genre.

A soundbite heard on the radio last week was, "The words 'it's not fair', shouldn't be said by anyone over the age of seven." Music to my ears. Though actually, I would suggest that it takes us a little longer than seven to realise that. Some adults don't seem to have grasped the concept at all.

I referred particularly to the words, 'it's not fair' words in an earlier blog.

One of the exercises I have done with clients, is to make a personal snakes and ladders board.  It helps a person observe that life is full of ups and downs, but we don't give up, we carry on. Another day,  another throw of the dice and see where we land. As much as there may be something unpleasant around the corner, so there will be plenty of uplifting moments too.  It's a cliche, but, 'that's life'...and it isn't fair.

A friend was telling me about a 17 year old she was giving music lessons to. The student was bright and had had no trouble passing exams, music or otherwise, through life. One day, the student arrived and said that they didn't want to carry on with the music exam. It was so out of character, that my friend delved a little deeper. It turned out that the student had just failed their first driving test. They were devastated. They had never failed anything in their lives before. My kind friend explained that failing their driving test was probably the best thing that had happened to them, as it wasn't of great importance in the scheme of things and would prepare them for the failures that would come their way in their future life. 

So many sixth formers leave their schools as a high flyers, only to realise that they are only a pebble on the beach of bright students when they get to university. It can be a struggle for them.

The best lessons are often learnt by failure. I will return to what happens when we don't learn from failure, a little nearer Christmas.

When I first started focusing my work on emotional maturity, I explained to some colleagues that it was fascinating to observe adults morph physically and verbally into children, as they entered particular emotional states. It gave me, the therapist, a true insight into their emotional state at the time and therefore clues as to where the roots of the problem may be. I was therefore astonished when a colleague told me in no uncertain terms, that they had never seen an adult behave like a child. As they worked in a major mental health charity, I felt they was missing something valuable.

NB: I am a short term, solution focused therapist. The roots can be revealed very quickly and dealt with very quickly. No need for masses of expensive/toxic digging around, with possibly unhelpful and sometimes tragic consequenses.

Perhaps you don't think this is relevant to you and people you have contact with. Have a look at the list below and think again.

If you ever feel like saying any of the following to an adult or perhaps used one of the expressions to describe someone, it means that at that moment and however grown up they may look, they are behaving like a child. Probably feeling like one too, if what I've heard is correct.  If you've ever had these words said to you, then  whether you like it or not, you're not behaving in a mature way at the time.
  • Oh grow up.
  • You’re behaving/acting like a child/2 year old.
  • That’s so childish.
  • Act your age.
  • That’s so juvenile.
  • You’re so infantile.
  • It’s babyish.
  • Throw teddy out of the pram
  • Taken his ball home.
  • Spit the dummy out.
  • Daddy's little princess.
  • Mummy's boy.
  • There are three children in this family and you're one of them.
  • Kidult.
  • Throwing a tantrum.
  • Sulking.
  • Slamming doors.
  • Throwing things in a temper.
  • Spoilt brat.
  • You’re so immature.
  • Shan't/Won't.
  • It’s not fair.
  •  Peter Pan.
  • A stroppy teenager.
  • I feel so childish.
  • Behaving like a spoilt brat.
  • Behaving like a stroppy teenager.
  • My mother makes me feel like a child of 6.
  • My father treats me like a 9 year old.
  • The children are more mature than the adults.
  • They act as if they're still in kindergarten.

...and on and on. I'm sure you could come up with examples of your own.

It's one thing to behave like a child, but the question is, why do adults behave like children? What's the point?

The point is that it achieves something.  We expect a reaction from behaving in such a way. Consciously and unconsciously. As a friend once said to me, "But I get what I want, behaving like a child. Why should I stop? I like it." Indeed. The question is to examine whether there is a more mature way of behaving, that causes less grief to the giver and receiver.

Childlike can be okay, childish is never okay. There's a difference? Oh yes, but that's for another day...or my podcast No: 11.

PS: Two hours after posting this blog, I read the following headline in the Independent: ' First woman chaplain tells laddish MPs: it's time to grow up.'   Sadly, I'm not surprised.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

"Here's something I made earlier" - Relationships.

Warning: This could be a long one. You have a choice.

Short version

In 2007 I decided to make some podcasts. The idea was to start to build the foundations of a book. I enjoyed writing and speaking and by the Autumn, things were going well and to plan.

Then my father was given a six month prognosis with prostate cancer and he lived 200 miles away.  We also unexpectedly found a house to renovate 50 miles away in the other direction. I begun three years of not knowing what I was doing from one week to another.

My father lived for thirty three months and died in July 2010. We finally moved into the house in November 2010. Something had to give over the years and it was my writing, the podcasts and eventually my practice.

It look me a few months to settle in to the new surroundings and routine, but that's when I started to write again and resurrect the blog.

Last week I was chatting to a friend. We went from subject to subject and she mentioned a family problem in the extended family. Though I wasn't wearing my therapist's hat,  I couldn't resist offering a few thoughts, but didn't like to say too much. On getting home I thought would send her something I had written in 2007. She could take it or leave it.

She read it and was complimentary. She thanked me, as she now had perspective on the problem. I thanked her, because her words had given me the extra push I needed. A book written in my style could help people.  "I don't do psychobabble", I told her. "It's accessible.", she said.

I shall persevere.

The subject matter is Relationships. It is available as a podcast on Itunes, as are several other subjects.

The long version

Here is the text:

Relationships (written in 2007)

“ I knew he was childish. I just wanted my childhood back.” 
Woman on phone talking about her husband

When I started to write about relationships, I was primarily thinking about the close emotional and physical relationship between two adults romantically involved. Then I realised that relationship problems include those occurring in families, amongst friends, neighbours, social circle and in the workplace. Many of these problems have arisen because of the inequality of emotional maturity between the adults involved.

There are also the relationships between people and other things they come into contact with. These can be very different, ranging from food to animals, vehicles to computers, books to places. The common denominator is that the relationship can be an emotional one and so also vulnerable to the vagaries of the emotional brain and laden in context.

The Chasing Rainbows understanding is that adults, who physically, chronologically and intellectually act the age they are, have an arrested emotional growth in certain (not all) situations. Hence the term, “Oh Act your age”.

The author and psychologist, Daniel Goleman, is famous for his work on emotional intelligence and came up with the term ‘emotional hijacking.’ In dysfunctional relationships I suggest that the emotional hijacking is being done by the junior adult,
who I shall call ‘mini-me’ after the Austin Powers film character.

1Emotional intelligence is referred to as (EQ) and has little to do with intellectual intelligence (IQ). I’m continually amazed at the amount of people who are not aware of this difference. The receptors lie in different parts of the brain. A high IQ is no measure of emotional maturity. Any visit to a university or college will illustrate that - and I’m not necessarily talking about the students!
The now dead politician, Robin Cook, was a man considered at one time to be the most intelligent man in British politics. He said that it wasn’t until he married his second wife, Gaynor, that he learnt about emotional intelligence.

Whilst a present relationship may be experiencing problems, it’s often because a past relationship is still influencing the person’s behaviour in the present. If someone in a relationship is at certain times behaving more in a childish way than adult, then it will affect anyone they are in contact with.

When we experience an emotional reaction, we are experiencing a pattern match in the brain and reenacting something from our personal history. It is most unlikely to actually have anything to do with the present.

In fact past relationships can affect communication between two people who have only just made contact. For instance: road rage or any rage incidents. These have little to do with annoyance in the present. There has been an emotional hijack. It can arise from a feeling of low self esteem, which has its roots in past relationships or there is a reminder of someone from the past who has caused the perpetrator unhappiness or fear. Here I remember another British politician, John Prescott (as previously mentioned in Audio 11), who famously and with full media coverage, hit a member of the public who had taunted him. This explanation can provide a reason for troublesome, if not dangerous, behaviour, but is not an excuse. Adults need to use self control, as referred to on Audio 10 - Setting boundaries.

Often in these situations, some adults are called controlling. Take a controlling adult and look at them as a frightened 8 year old, terrified of losing attention and love, or being humiliated, ridiculed, perhaps not valued, frightened of not being good enough or going without. Of not being in control of their surroundings. It can explain a great deal.

One of my clients wrote to me, “The third most important thing I think you’ve taught me is the fact that I can change things. There are things beyond my control but I can control how I respond to them. I have learnt that life is beyond my control but how I respond to life is all within the bounds of my control”.
My client, who has a superior IQ, is now learning how to improve their EQ.

The basic frame work of the model I use is the same whatever the status of the people involved. It may appear familiar to those who have studied Transactional Analysis and also the role of transference in therapy.
Transference is about the transferring of feelings from one person on to another. I personally call it dumping, but that is not a very scientific term, although everyone knows what it means. Why should we end up being covered by someone else’s rubbish? And that’s putting it politely.

Perhaps there is a difference in the type of feelings involved?
Transference and an adult mini-me in control, can be frequently observed in adults who have difficulty with authority figures because of their emotional pattern match to their old teachers. Whilst the adult mini-me’s feelings about a parent can often be ‘dumped’ on to a partner and the feelings about a partner can be ‘dumped’ on to a child or future partner.
Audio 6 - taking control, not losing control covers what one can do with the hijacking mini-me.

I’m assured by those who have studied TA and transference, that Chasing Rainbows adds a different understanding for these behaviours. As I have said before, this certainly isn’t about nurturing the inner child. It’s about firmly reassuring the adult mini-me, telling it to go away and being able to then focus on the adult self. Parents often adhere to routine bedtimes for their children, explaining to them that they’ve had their time through the day, now the evening is grown-up time. Our lives in the present are for our grown-up selves, not to entertain or attend to the demands of ‘mini-me’.

I believe that relationships, work mainly from variations of one of the three following models.
1. Adult and adult.
Two adults are able to relate to each other as adults. They explore and support getting their individual adult needs met within the relationship. Intellectually, there may be a difference in IQs, but their EQs are well matched. They can enjoy moments of childlike fun together. There may be instances of childish behaviour, but these are not a dominant feature of the relationship and nor are they tolerated to any great extent. Boundaries are drawn and kept to. There is necessarily some dependence, but overall they retain their own independence. These are healthy relationships where communication is open and effective. When the going gets tough, they are able to problem solve and support each other.

2. An adult and adult mini-me.
Two adults start out on equal footing. But, at certain times, one of the adults begins to display a significant amount of childish behaviour. For instance, sulks and tantrums. The whole list is on Audio 4 - Childish or childlike. The relationship changes into one between an adult and an adult mini-me. Communication can break

If the change in the dynamic is supported and encouraged by the adult, this relationship can survive and even thrive. A dependency can be created, but it suits the needs of the individuals. It may not to everyone's taste, but if it’s not upsetting anyone and the people concerned are happy, then I’m not knocking it.

But if this change in dynamic is not supported by the adult, it can lead to a breakdown in the relationship. The adult has lost an equal and the adult mini-me, can’t find what they are looking for. The adult can find living or working with the adult mini-me, draining and unfullfilling. Overtime they will become frustrated and resentful. The adult mini-me also becomes angry and upset because the adult can’t solve their problems.
This can become an extremely unhappy and destructive relationship that often is sustained for years.

3. Two adult mini-mes
Two adults who cannot communicate as adults and are both attempting to resolve their childhood needs, instead of their adult needs. This relationship has a high degree of unhappiness as each partner cannot provide what the other is searching for. It can become chaotic. They may have good, even high IQs and be highly competent in the workplace. Emotionally they are on average 8 years old and under. Imagine two 8 year olds attempting to live together or working together and organising anything and one can understand the disaster it can become.

Here are some examples of the models I’m talking about: Marco Pierre-White is a 45 year old top British chef. His third marriage has just collapsed. When Marco was six years old, his adored, vivacious mother collapsed in front of him with a brain hemorrhage. She later died. He throws massive tantrums and has been quoted as saying, “ I am searching for my mother .” Marco is a successful businessman, but emotionally he is a frightened, bewildered six year old little boy. Sadly he will never find his mother. He may find someone who will mother him, but it can never be the same, because he is 45 not 6. He is chasing a dream - Chasing Rainbows.

There are many examples of men looking for mother figures and women looking for father figures. Most come about because the adult is looking for something for the child they once were.

Patti Boyd is a woman in her 50s, who was once married in turn to the world famous singers and guitarists George Harrison and Eric Clapton. She has just published her autobiography. In an article about her book, the writer suggests to Patti that the men she married were so infantile that they “shoved her into a sort of mummy role” Patti responds by saying “ I don’t know whether the mummy role was inherent because I was the eldest of six or because I never had children.”

As I said before, there’s no harm in this role-play, if there is agreement on both parts. It does work for some people. But often it doesn’t and it didn’t it Patti Boyd’s marriages.

Family relationship can be fraught with difficulties if the child is not allowed to grow up into the adult. How many times do we hear from adults, mature in years, “ my parent still treats me like a child?”

A business woman working in the city, recently won a large award because she had been bullied at work. But by other women. A group who constantly told her she smelt and blew raspberries at her. This is straight out of the playground. Sadly this sort of behaviour is common in many workplaces. It’s not so much juvenile as infantile, with results that lead to poorer productivity and increased sickness levels.

The American psychologist and expert on personal relationships, John Gottman has identified from research, the four destroyers of relationships. Contempt. Stonewalling. Withdrawal. Criticism. He talks about a ratio of 5:1. The relationship will stand more hope of surviving if there is one hour of positive communication to the five hours of negative. With Chasing Rainbows in mind, I would also suggest that these behaviours can also be seen in distressed children.

I have come to realise that my own mini-me is a 10 year old full of a sense of injustice with authority figures. She often used to appear in workplace situations. No wonder the outcomes weren’t helpful and made her even more indignant. It’s embarrassing to think about it.

As children we hopefully are guided by our parents and teachers. As adults we need to be doing it for ourselves.
Footnote: After reading this podcast, a man said to a colleague about an old relationship, “ We were just children playing house in the play corner. She liked being babied, but I got fed up.”


Monday, 14 November 2011

"Pick yourself up and start all over again." - Resilience

Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday in the UK.

I could say Remembrance Sunday changed my life, but perhaps not in the way one might imagine.

I had been a local poppy seller for some years, going door to door in the village I lived in. On the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday, I took part in the street collection in the local town. Collectors had their favourite position, over which they became quite territorial through the years. As the weather tended towards the chilly and damp, being undercover was sought after.

In 1985, I went into town early, determined to get a prime position. I succeeded. Outside a Waitrose supermarket and undercover. There was a steady stream of people, with occasional lulls. During one of these lulls I started to read the notice board.

At the time I was running a playgroup in the afternoons, primarily for convenience and enjoyment. My former husband wanted me to earn some useful money, so I found an early morning job in a neighbouring town, filling shelves in Boots the Chemists. On the Waitrose notice board there was a notice advertising a position for an early morning shelf filler. Waitrose were the food shops of the larger John Lewis Department Store group and had a good reputation. The supermarket was much nearer home too, so when I finished poppy selling, I went into the shop and asked about the vacancy.

I was not to know that the department manager I spoke to and who ultimately offered me the job, was not the department manager who had put the notice in the window. It turned out that they dislikes each other intensely and I had been 'poached'.

I loved the working environment. I may have only been putting bread on the shelves, but I took pride in my work and soon was asked to do the ordering and offered an increase in hours. I would look at some of the shop floor managers and think, "I could do that".  I ventured to ask if I could be considered for a training programme. It may surprise those who know me, that due to my educational non achievements, I had no reason to believe that I was capable of managing anything in a workplace. My out of work activities would have shown otherwise. But this was the workplace and I knew my limits...or thought I did. No mention of transferable skills in those days.

This isn't a fairy story, well, a Grimm fairy tale perhaps.  I rose quite quickly and decided to run before I could walk, terrified that at 37 years old I was 'over the hill'. It's laughable now. I changed shops and made a complete fool of myself. I look back on the year 1987 with complete horror. If I had to write a book on 'emotional arousal can make you stupid', then what happened to me that year alone would fill it up and it wasn't all at work.

For more on emotional arousal:

With hindsight, maybe I learnt the most about life and myself that year. Before the horror year, I was in a management training meeting. A visiting shop manager was asked what quality he felt was most needed by managers. He answered, "Resilience. The ability to be like a wobbly bottomed doll, who gets pushed down and bounces back...many times." I remember thinking what an odd thing it was to say and couldn't understand what he was talking about. A year later I discovered what he meant. But maybe that's what I've always had anyway. 

Perhaps Resilience is the word needed in my 'backbone' story:

So I rose, fell and crawled slowly upwards again and beyond. I thought that I would still be with Waitrose now, but I moved north in 1994 to a Waitrose and John Lewis free zone, which meant that my working life had to change.  The irony is that as on the very weekend I moved again last year, a branch of Waitrose opened in York. Now there's news of a John Lewis opening there too.

That's not the only irony connected with this story. After years of battles with the local council, the shop where I had the awful time was eventually knocked down and rebuilt. Part of the new complex included a small cinema. Twelve years after I had left the shop, my wonderful family, not knowing anything of my personal trauma, organised an amazing 'surprise' 50 birthday party for me at the cinema with friends from 45 years of my life.

So on the very spot of some of the most miserable working experiences of my life, I enjoyed a very happy time. 

Since then, I've continued to step out of my comfort zone on occasions, but been a little wiser. I've been tidying up my study and found this poem:

by Author Unknown

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,
before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the
greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change,
grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

After all, if I get knocked down, I'll bounce back, won't I?


Monday, 7 November 2011

Ping Pong Poms - Expectations

Ping Pong Poms. A beautifully alliterative description. If you haven't worked out what it might mean, the words describe people from the UK, who have emigrated to Australia, changed their mind and returned to the UK. They may have gone back again to Australia and so on. I know people who could be given that name and you may do too.

But it's not just people going to Australia. The house I live in, had previously been bought by an older couple, who left the village to move elsewhere in the UK, only to return to the same road, a couple of years later. I'm also aware that I have readers who live outside the UK. For those readers, the place names can change, but the underlying observations stand.

Why don't moves always work out as people hoped?

We make decisions and take actions because we expect something to happen. Something will happen of course, but it may not be quite what we were expecting.

Some moves are forced on us by circumstances and this isn't what I'm writing about here. This blog is about people who move, expecting a better life than the one they are presently experiencing or perhaps an improvement, at least. A move will solve their problems.

I was attracted to the news item, because I have been fortunate to  visit Australia on several occasions over the last seventeen years.  On some of those visits, I was working as a psychotherapist, giving talks, taking workshops and seeing private clients in three states. I was also staying in homes, rather than hotels for many of the visits. So I have a little insight into the home lives of a variety of people.

In a nutshell, if you have emotional difficulties before you move, you may find that they still exist, hundreds or thousands of miles away. But you don't have the support network that you had in wherever the previous home was.

The grass may look greener, but up close, it can often still have weeds.

Friends and family have always been important, but many don't realise how important until they are not easy to contact. Though the Skype, email, texting and Twitter can bring the world closer. Is it really only 20 years ago when my son use go off on adventures around the world and I would wait for the blue air mail letters like a starving person needing food? 

The foundations for my blog thoughts and observations are the emotional needs and resources that human beings have been given. (The Human Givens). 

Some principal needs:
  • A meaning and purpose in life.
  •  Loving and being loved - healthily.                                                                                    
  •  Security in home, work and environment
  •  A sense of autonomy and control.
  •  A sense of community                                                                                                              
  •  The giving and receiving of attention in a healthy way.
  •   Balanced nutrition.
  •   A feeling of status and personal value.
  •   Fun and friendship.
  •   A sense of achievement coming from being stretched in what    we do and think.
  •   The need for privacy 

Emotional health problems may occur if some these needs are either not met or met unhealthily.  Many people confuse needs with wants.  We may have what we want, but not what we need.  

We look and expect to get our needs met in our present life as adults. Often and unconsciously, we may actually be looking and expecting to get those needs met, that were missing or perceived to be missing when we were children. 

As the fulfillment of the child's missing needs is impossible, thwarted expectations can be hard to experience and often people don't know why.

I live near a seaside town. Like many seaside towns in the UK, it has a sizable population on benefits. (NB: Terrible name, they benefit few.) Talking with some of them, many mention that they came to the seaside, because it was the one place that they had happy childhood memories. The drug, alcohol abuse and single parenthood are witness to unmet needs.

I have many wonderful memories of my visits to Australia. I also have several memories than I found concerning. One was the enormous MacDonald's attached to a children's hospital. But for the purposes of this blog subject, I shall never forget the huge advertising banner spread across a motorway bridge: It was a helpline for women gamblers. 

Australia is not the panacea, by any means. Nor is the seaside, town, countryside, mountains or anywhere else, if the expectations of what you're hoping for when you get there are unrealistic. 

The crock of gold doesn't exist. The rainbow is an illusion and we can become deluded chasing it.

There were many articles written about the news item. I liked the following: