News Blog

Global Self-Condemnation

  Often, in my clinical work, I hear people say they are far too ‘hard’ on themselves.  They tell me that they regularly ‘beat themselves up’ and this ‘causes’ their low self-esteem. This is frequently reinforced by therapists who tell people they ought to challenge and silence their inner critic and instead love themselves unconditionally. In contrast, I find in my work that most people are nowhere near hard enough on themselves.  My experience is that people demonstrate a multitude of strategies that allow them to evade taking responsibility and calling themselves to account – and this is often why…

Disrupting Past Patterns

Often in my work I see people who are very advanced in their skills in particular contexts (like work) but who lack skills in other contexts (such as in certain aspects of their private lives). This can be for many reasons, but sometimes it is because they formed an alliance with a person in their past and they feel disloyal if they change their behaviour and ‘break the pact’ they had with them. For example, two siblings may have (against all odds) survived experiences of great hardship and trauma during childhood, but in the process of doing so, they both…

The face mask

  Although the face is not usually peeled back completely during autopsy, in accessing the brain, the pathologist will often peel back some of the face and expose the fat, muscle, blood vessels and tendons below the skin.  This is frequently enough to make medical students go weak at the knees.  The sudden de-humanising reality – that immediately below the exterior we are all essentially meat – is a shock for most people. The human face is, of course, an amazing feat of evolution.  It provides us with the capacity for essential interactions with our environment so that we can…

Distress Intolerance

Probably the most significant problem I encounter in my work is the resistance many people show towards taking responsibility for their contribution when things fail to work out well – such as when friendships, work or intimate relationships break down.    In these circumstances, many people want to mentally turn away, blame others, create exhausting lists of extenuating circumstances, go fiercely on the attack, argue semantics, or just refuse point blank to listen. As you can imagine, there is huge effort involved in this ‘blocking’ behaviour.  So, why do we do it? Overwhelmingly, what I have found to be the…

Resilience

In our society we think there is something seriously wrong when people are sad and they cry.  Even at the brief mention of an issue that might create sadness during the TV news, viewers are provided with the phone number of a depression helpline to receive mental health support.  In line with this, people often rush to the GP to receive anti-depressant medication to ‘remove’ their sadness.  The trouble with this approach is that it teaches people that if they are sad, then there must be something wrong with them and they require professional help.  It also teaches people that…

COVID19 – Grief & Adaptation

Since the recent lockdown and the mandatory wearing of masks in Melbourne, almost every night I dream nightmares.  They have the same theme – that there is nothing I can do to save myself or others.  The world is chaotic, out of control, dark, dangerous, post-apocalyptic and full of trepidation.  Law, order and civil society have broken down completely. In my dreams I am usually running to find the people I love and with whom I need to cooperate in such an unpredictable world, but I can never find them.  As I call for them, my voice disappears into a…

Self-Deceit

We all tell lies and we tell them often.  Mostly we believe we lie to others.  We justify this by saying we are protecting them – after all we cannot go about the place telling people they have bad breath or are brainless twerps or conflict would skyrocket, and society would break down. It is true that lying does smooth social interaction and it reduces the likelihood of people being unduly embarrassed or ashamed in the moment. But often the most harmful lying is done to ourselves, with the purpose of shielding us from self-truths that would otherwise leverage us…

Be true to Yourself

  Amelia Earhart gave women wings.  In 1921 she had her own plane called ‘the canary’ and broke many flying records including being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic as well as breaking speed records, high-altitude and long-distance records.  She lectured, published a book and became president of the 99s (a women’s aviation club).  When she married George Putnam, she described their marriage as a ‘partnership with dual control’.  She famously said before attempting to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe (and dying in the process): ‘I am quite aware of the hazards.  I want…

Stop Leaking

  While most people know that body language makes up a large part of communication, very few people realise how much we transparently ‘leak’ it to everyone around. This is something that I noticed early in my career, when I realised that reading peoples’ behaviour was so much more accurate and informative than assuming their words were all-important.  In fact, if we observe most people closely, our behaviours are constantly revealing our internal mental state. Take a look at the tee-shirt message above.  While it is quite funny at a superficial level, the message actually tells us a huge amount…

How To ‘Like’ Your Children

In my clinical work people often tell me that they ‘love’ their children, but they find it hard to ‘like’ them. While I’m not always entirely persuaded about the ‘love’ (since their behaviour often indicates deep resentment and dislike), I understand that it would be socially unacceptable to say otherwise. Unfortunately, these parents have unintentionally ‘trained’ their children to be little ‘monsters’ and sadly the children often know deep down that they are disliked and resented.  Of course, none of this does anyone any good. Fortunately, it is never too late to change this interaction for the better, but it…

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