Helpful hints and discussion about mental health and mental health issues as it relates to
news, popular culture and day-to-day life.


Monday 28 July 2014

Letting go of the Life-ring: Trust and Change

Trust and Change: Learning how to let go of the life-ring


So, dear friends an individual wrote in requesting some follow-up on the blog posting about clinging to the emotional life-ring (see the entry on “Just GetOver it! (Already) – NOT!).

Specifically the question was how to change patterns of the past. As you can see from the image in the posting “Just Get Over it!”, people who are abandoned, alone, out in the emotional ocean of life will desperately cling to that life-ring and when a rescuer comes along... well, they will switch from the life-ring to that person.



I won’t get into the phrases: “clingy” and “needy”, because EVERYONE is clingy and needy. Let me repeat that again, because it bears repeating:


EVERYONE is clingy and needy.


And as I mentioned in my post on “Just Get Over it!”, when well-meaning people criticize you (or worse) you criticize yourself with your internal critic by saying this.  Do you think it helps you or hinders? What do you think? – This is a test question, friends.


What do you think? When someone tells you, or you tell yourself – “You are clingy and needy!” Do you think it empowers you to go right out there and tackle the world? Does it make you feel like this:

Statue of Liberty

Monument to the Motherland, Kyiv

Or this:

Liberty Leading the People -- Eugène Delacroix



Or rather, do you feel rather more like this:


 even more small and less able to tackle the world? And then perhaps you feel that it is maybe even your own fault that you are... CLINGY and NEEDY?


What do you think is the correct answer?


For all those who chose the second answer: Full Marks.

For all those who wanted to choose the first answer, please refer to second answer.


Anyway, enough silliness.


The point is, when you are feeling abandoned by past relationships and/or desperate and wanting to regain what you have lost, it makes no sense whatsoever to BLAME yourself for what you no longer have or what you have lost. You have lost something and you feel a need (not neediness) until it is replaced. It is that simple. Blaming yourself by calling yourself down (or having others call you down) by saying you are needy or clingy helps not a bit.


So, embrace your clinginess and your neediness. It is there for a reason.


Hunh? Embrace your neediness?


Emotions, you see, are our sensors. When you are feeling neediness or clinginess, it is an internal message from yourself to yourself that you wish to be more emotionally connected. Listen to that message and listen to that voice. It is there for a reason.


So, well and good, Steve, I hear you say.

So I acknowledge my neediness and my loneliness and my clinginess. So what? What am I supposed to do about this now?


Okay, so part of the problem with getting into relationships is, it involves two elements:


1.      Process

2.      And Trust.


Now, psychotherapists and counsellors are forever going on about “process” and no, we are not talking about this:

 processed cheese, although the word “process” is such a cliché with counsellors, you could say it is “cheesy”.


But, seriously, “process” is an expression we use to understand that CHANGE and the change process and the evolution of a person’s life and personality, does not happen instantaneously overnight. On the contrary it is..... a process.


And similarly changing ANYTHING in our lives is a process.  I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But at least you now know realistically HOW to change whatever you would like to in your life (within reason).




Want to lose weight? – It’s a process.

Want to get out of that bad relationship? – It’s a process.

Want to have a fabulous, buff body or look like Arnold? – It’s a process.

Want to be wealthy? – It’s a process.

Want to get into that super relationship with the person of (most) of your dreams? – It’s a process.

Want to quit drinking/smoking/drugging (fill-in-the-blank) bad habit? – It’s a process.


Want to speak a foreign language? – It’s a process.

Want to get out of that job or change your career or go back to school? – It’s a process.

Want a sparkling clean, decluttered house and tidy garden? – It’s a process.


Just how many infomercials have there been where people can strike it rich with some super-duper fabulous get-rich-quick investment scheme or lose weight or put on muscles in no time at all? Unfortunately, they don’t tell you the other side of it: that it takes a lot of persistence and encouragement to get to that goal.


These infomercials are designed to appeal to all of us at a very basic level because they focus on basic human drives and basic human needs and goals. A man named Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow

talked about this and I may come back to this in the future on another post.


However, what you need to keep in mind, for whatever change you would like to bring about is that it is a process. Ten steps forward, 3 steps back. But a net gain of seven steps.


Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist,

Malcolm Gladwell

in his book entitled “Outliers”

talks about the “10,000 hour effect”, referring to a study by K. Anders Ericsson,

 a Swedish psychologist. According to Ericsson’s  research, which was written about in Gladwell’s book,  the bulk of most successful people in the world have put in about 10,000 hours into their field in order to be at the top of their field.
K. Anders Ericcson


There are no overnight success stories.


So, once again.   It is a process.


Secondly, and this is a little bit more difficult, apart from changing habits and routines, relationships, if one is talking about changing relationships, also involves trust. And trust again, is..... A process.


So the question might be: Okay, Steve. I hear that changing my life (or my relationship) might be a process – 10, 000 hours or 10 steps forward, 3 steps back until I reach my destination.


However, how do I trust if I have been burned?


Simple.    You don’t trust, if you have been burned.




You don’t trust if you have been burned. You are feeling fearful and frightened. You don’t trust.... until you feel safe.

Think again of the image of the drowning person with the life ring.  The person is fearful and frightened of drowning.  How useful would it be to the drowning person to snatch away their life ring and say:

                        “Now there you go! SWIM”

So the exact same thing applies to you. You feel bruised perhaps from a past relationship. You are distrustful. So you don’t trust. You have to go with what you feel.


However, you also know, logically that if you never let go of that life ring you will never swim.


So, you have to trust that you will swim and not drown.


I realize that this may be a little too abstract and metaphoric, so I will illustrate with a concrete example, where the names and information has been changed.



Once upon a time, I knew a middle-man who had had 3 kids and who had lost his wife due to cancer.  Very nice man, but unfortunately when he lost his wife, he started drinking like crazy and almost lost his job. Fortunately his elder sister came to the rescue and he went into rehab and got cleaned up.


Now, remember what I said about change? Well, change for this man was a process. Everyday he had to struggle to deal with his wife’s death and then his abstinence and like in Alcoholics Anonymous or AA, every day was one step at a time. So it was a daily process for him.


Now after about 3 years, the man who was still young enough, wanted to have a relationship. However, he felt a strong obligation whenever he met a new woman in his life to “be honest and tell her upfront that he was “an alcoholic”.


Well and good, I thought, except here’s the problem and I told him so.

When you get into a relationship it is ...... A PROCESS.

It is a process of getting to know someone and you don’t and shouldn’t spill your entire life story in the first five minutes you meet someone, especially not that which you might think would be   upsetting for the other person to know.


You do not need to tell them for example that:

1.      You used to be an addict.

2.      You were sexually abused as a child

3.      You have been bankrupt.

4.      You had a criminal record, which has now been removed.

5.      Anything else that someone else might be scared of.


Why? But shouldn’t I be honest and upfront with the person?

Absolutely. But do they need to know absolutely everything and every little transgression or fault about you within the first five minutes? No.


Everyone has faults. And trust and the process of trust will slowly start to bring out these admissions AS YOU GET TO KNOW THE PERSON. Look at it this way, the person you are getting to know, will likely have just as many faults and heartaches in their past as you, all you need to do is wait for the story.

And if you were to hear in the first five minutes about someone else’s failed relationships, what would you think?

Probably, you wouldn’t want to get involved with this person.

Which is exactly what this middle-aged man was struggling with.

He felt a compunction to be upfront and honest in the first meeting with anyone new and subsequently turned all potential partners off.


SO, relationships and trust are a process. It requires courage and time.

And be good to yourself. If you are feeling needy or clingy, it is because you are feeling a basic human need that we all need from birth: to be held, touched, loved, wanted and desired.

People who do not have this, dear friends can become very, very seriously dysfunctional.


So, keep at it and trust the process. Because as you do begin to trust the process, you will find yourself less and less like the clingy little child and more and more like the ideal of liberty.

Take care,


I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

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Wednesday 23 July 2014

Simple Tips for supporting Grieving persons

Tips for supporting those who might be grieving


A suggestion from one reader has asked that there be some discussion on the topic of relationships, commitment and changing life directions, which I will attend to, but first due to the level of response of what has happened within the last few days with the events of Flight MH17 and the subsequent grief, shock and anger, I thought it may be better to address these topics first and then address those other ones later in a later post.


Because of the seriousness of these concerns, the tone will be a little bit more sombre, so bear with me.


So, in a nutshell, if you are the person who is helping and/or supporting someone who is experiencing grief or a sudden loss, keep the following  8 points in mind:


1.      Acknowledge the grieving person’s experience.   Above all don’t deny it. Don’t dismiss it with platitudes such as “he’s in a better place” or “It’s God’s will”. (Yikes!). Don’t counter what they feel.  If they feel sad or angry, confused, shocked or in denial.  Don’t counter it...... just yet. There are a plethora of emotions when someone is in shock and grief. The best thing to do is ask them WHAT they are feeling and reflect it back to them but, here is a caution: don’t parrot them. And don’t tell the person: “I know how you must feel” – because this will get you in to hot water. So, Acknowledge, but don’t counter. Even if the person has a fantasy that the dead person will somehow “comeback” – go with it.

2.      Be ready for any emotion. This comes as a follow up on point #1. Realize that when people grieve that there may be a huge variance in experience. One may be angry. One may be sad. Some people will go very quiet and thoughtful. Some may even be happy! Yes, happy, such as the person, who being a caregiver for the deceased says wistfully: “I am happy she is in a better place. She has no pain now”. Don’t be surprised that any emotion may surface. And again, don’t react back to the expression of the emotion. Acknowledge what the person is feeling.

3.      The deceased individual is now a void in a network or system of relationships. Realize that within a family system or network of friends or relatives, should one person lose a member of the family, it will affect everyone in different ways. So for example, this person was someone’s son, and husband, lover, grandfather, etc. Don’t expect that there will be someone in the family who will be functional. They may all be temporarily dysfunctional. So for example, a young mother of 3 young children dies. Her husband is grieving. He has lost his wife. Her children are grieving. They have lost their mother. The grandparents are both grieving. They have lost their daughter. The young mother’s siblings are grieving. They have lost their sister. And so on. So in a situation like this, really nobody within the family group is not in distress and may be not be functioning at high capacity. Quite possibly the only people who might be able to help in this scenario are the other in-laws, in other words, the family on the young father’s side. They should be the ones who should be helping, if they can.

4.      Try not to react back to emotion, if intense. The person is not in their right mind. As stated in points 1 and 2. The person is in an intense state of shock, grief, horror, etc. As the helper, because of displacement (see my post on displacement in “Just Get Over It!(Already).... Not!) you as the helper, because you are the closest person to the grieving individual, you may be target of displaced anger. No, you didn’t cause the cancer, or the airplane/train crash/murder (fill-in-the-blank). But because the grieving person can’t attack the one who is responsible for the tragedy, they may lash out at you. This is a displacement. See it for what it is.  

5.      Don’t set a time limit on the grief.... just yet. Grief and loss take time to get over. Indeed, some people never unfortunately get over their losses. And as I mentioned in another earlier post, they will “get over it” in direct proportion to how comfortable and safely they can give up their “life-ring”.

6.      One loss may bring up reminders of other past losses. Realize that one loss will sometimes bring up memories of other losses in the past. Don’t be surprised if the person starts talking or going back to other similar-related losses (e.g. a death of cancer/suicide/murder/, etc.) will bring to mind other similar losses. Also, other losses of any description, will be felt more keenly by the individual than normally. And the grieving person may also be reminded of other losses unrelated to a death, i.e. their personal loss of job, function, ability, relationship, whatever.

7.      Check in with them emotionally on a regular basis.  If you see any special red flags – especially if they feel suicidal or homicidal. Then you need to seek a local professional immediately. See my earlier post on “When Talking to Friends isn’t enough”.  Often when a person is grieving, there is also a possibility that the potential loss is enough for them to either want to take their life or someone else’s. This makes total sense. Remember point from points 2 and 3, that the person is temporarily dysfunctional and may have any sort of emotional reaction and may choose to act out on those reactions. Hence this is why some people may have suicidal thoughts when a loved one dies and/or they may have homicidal thoughts. They may want to go out and kill the perpetrator.  Neither approach is really quite balanced but the emotional state of the grieving person is so powerful in that moment.  This may help to explain a great deal about terrorism and “tit-for-tat” killing and feuding.

8.       Be on the lookout for grief overwhelm and identification.  (See my earlier two posts on identification.) This is also sometimes called vicarious trauma. If you are working with a grieving person, you may start to identify yourself with the grief. By trying to help and understand what they are going through, you yourself may start to feel grief, especially if the person is not dealing with it. Take time out to get help for yourself. That way, you can feel better and healthier and more able to help your friends or loved ones grieve.


I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

If you are interested in this or other posts, why not click on the Google + button or submit your email, either way, and follow this blog?


Take care,


Tuesday 22 July 2014

Looking for your Input

I want to hear your suggestions for future posts! Just leave them in Comments below. Thank you.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Flight MH17

Flight MH17: Multiple, Severe Loss and Grieving.

Because of what has happened in the last few days in Eastern Ukraine, with the downing of flight MH 17, I have felt an obligation to write a post about this, precisely because it has been so horrific. And quite possibly because, others may be struggling to make sense of all this, not least of which the victims’ families.

For some reading this post or thinking about Flight MH17, it may bring up profound grief or even tears. So talking about the emotional experiences of what we see and witness in the world can help, especially if we can process it.

And for those who may be feeling “emotional” or teary-eyed, this may be due to at least two, if not more factors. One of them I have already started to talk about which is “identification” or what you identify with (see my earlier (2) post (s) on identification: "Can I have your identification, please -- part 1 on personal identity, Link here:  And "Can I have your identification, please -- part 2 (on national identity), Link here:
Identification is similar to when you go to a movie  and you “identify” or resonate with or feel a character in the film  and thus you cry or laugh or become excited or angry or whatever the emotion may be, especially if you have had a similar experience to the character.

So therefore I would hazard to guess that many of the following people or groups of people would identify with this disaster and it would therefore bring up for them tears of grief, as there was a link of similarity:

            The Netherlands and all people of Dutch descent



            Family members of the victims of flight MH370

            Family members of the victims of 911

            Family members who have lost children to terrorism

            Family members of those who have been senselessly murdered, such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut, or Virginia Tech or Columbine highschool in Colorado...   

And of course one can include Russians... Why, one might ask? Because, as seen in this photo taken from around Hrabove (the site of the crash),
        the Russians or Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine have also been suffering loss of life while the conflict over there has been raging.

            and the list for “identification” goes on....

The other, second reason why one might be feeling teary-eyed or emotional, if one is not directly connected with these events or “identifies” with them in some way, would be due to displacement.

            What is displacement? Displacement is usually when you transfer the emotion of some other experience onto your current situation.

            Let me give an example.

There was once an individual* whom I saw who was struggling with the death of someone close to him. Before seeing him that day, he tripped and fell over and skinned his knee and also quite severely torn his pant leg on a nice pair of dress pants. The wound on his knee was a small flesh wound, nothing an adult would really cry about. Yet when I saw him, he bawled his eyes out, like a baby.

            Why, you might wonder did he do this? Because of displacement. The individual had been struggling for so long in dealing with the death of a loved one and had been subsequently holding everything in, in order not to let everything go. He was obliged to do this as no one else in his family could.

            He finally “snapped” and how he snapped, was by skinning his knee. At this point, he allowed himself or could no longer contain himself and just had to cry. (Yay! I thought to myself). He subsequently felt much better as if a load had been lifted off his shoulders.

            However “displacement” happens more frequently than people realize. It happens because one is given license, so to speak, to cry over more serious issues.

            Whenever an individual carries around an emotional load, that they cannot discharge, because of whatever reason, the emotion will build. After a time, there will be a final straw, which will break the camel’s back.

So you may find a co-worker who has been dealing with abuse in silence and then suddenly snaps, because you inadvertently said the wrong thing. Or a pregnant woman will be over or highly emotional when viewing a sentimental film which she would otherwise consider maudlin.

Often times when you “cry for joy”, this is a displacement. You have been struggling for so long with something and holding it in that when the pressure is off, you finally cave in and cry.  Really, you should be jumping around and shouting “yahoo!” but you have been carrying a bottled up emotion that all you can feel are tears of relief.

This scene with actress Emma Thompson from the film, Sense and Sensibility illustrates what I describe. The character of Elinor, has been obliged to withhold her feelings due to social obligations and propriety of the time. When she is given back the hope that she can marry her true love and that all is not lost, well, she loses her self-possession. Watch.

So an individual may witness something only mildly emotionally disturbing or profoundly emotionally disturbing, but if they have been displacing their true feelings about something else, then having “a meltdown”, as most people call it, over some minor incident is quite understandable, like that man who began crying because he skinned his knee. What he was really crying about was the loved one he was losing. Hence, a displacement.


Finally dear friends, I will finish by saying that when serious, major, severe disasters occur such as this one, people struggle in their grief to find a meaning, or reason for the disaster. By having a reason or a meaning, it makes the loss less severe. It also makes the loss easier to comprehend, because otherwise you cannot literally fit it into your brain (or psyche). Hence this is why sometimes disasters like this are called “senseless”. I will not get into the metaphysical or theological, but this is where belief and faith make misery tolerable. Indeed, sometimes it is the ONLY thing that makes misery tolerable.

Lastly, a piece of music. Dominic Harvey of the The Winchester Cathedral Choir sings Pie Jesu from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor. It is a choral orchestral setting for a mass for the dead. The piece is in Latin and the words are very simple:

Pie Jesu Domine – Pious Lord Jesus

Dona eis requiem – Give them rest

Pie Jesu Domine – Pious Lord Jesus

Dona eis sempiternam requiem – Give them everlasting rest

 I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

Take care,


*Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

Thursday 17 July 2014

Just Get Over It! (Already)..... Not!

by Stephen B.Chadwick, MA Counselling Psychology.

 The caption for this entry is “Just Get Over It!”and I think it needs to be spoken about because so many people use or have used this phrase that people assume, that there is something to it.

What I mean by this is, many people either consciously (like they state it aloud to others, almost in complaint) or think it about themselves when struggling to get over a loss. Like.... “I should be over this already it has been ..... (fill-in-the-blank)  days/weeks/months/years”.

So someone has suffered from a loss, of any description, and they think that they have a due-date on their grief... kind of a like a best-before date on a carton of milk or a due-date on a library book.  Like, it’s okay to be moaning and grieving but after a certain date, the milk in the carton goes sour or the library book starts incurring fees.  So after a while your friends to whom you may pour out your heart or your grief, think you have turned into sour milk or that you are like a book that should go back to the library. See my post on whining to friends!

They’re  right. But they are also very wrong.

Hunh? What are you saying? I hear you ask.

 Let me explain.

First of all, take a look at this clip. I am not keen on the film Moonstruck. I love the films of Norman Jewison, a Canadian director. But I am not keen on this film. Regardless, there is a classic scene with Cher and Nicholas Cage that helps to illustrate this post entry.

So Cher’s character acts pragmatically. She slaps Nicholas Cage and tells him to “snap outta it!” The problem with this is... when one experiences a loss, one can’t just “snap outta it!” So, as I mentioned above, when well-meaning friends say this or “get over it/suck it up” or says “She (or He) just needs to get over it” or something like that... they are seriously ignoring the lived experience of the person who is grieving and trying to wipe it away. Wrong.

With the character of Nicholas Cage, he is angry, very angry. He has lost his arm in some sort of accident and still clings desperately to the past, hence he can’t just “snap out of it”. Unfortunately with people who are still grieving it is important to acknowledge where they are in the process of accepting their situation as it is. It also has a lot to do with how they currently identify themselves. Remember, where I talked about identification in the posts: Can I have your identification, please? Well, this is where it comes in.

The character of Nicholas Cage still identifies with his past hurts and experiences, hence he cannot let go of his pain and anger and so when he finds love with the character of Cher he clings to her like a drowning victim.

 And speaking of drowning victims, this is a very good analogy. Again when someone casually tosses off a “Just let it go” comment, it’s usually a pretty good indication that the speaker is not understanding the person’s intense grief. Dollars to donuts.

So, when a person is drowning, they are obviously in a highly agitated state. Their very life is in danger. And what typically lifeguards tell rescuers when they venture out to rescue the person is to literally  push the person away from you, if they start to grab onto you. Makes sense. Otherwise both of you will go under and both of you will drown. However, you also need to consider what is going on for the person in distress (but not drowning). He or she had been clinging to their past experience of life and identification: mother, husband, career designation, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever and now all of a sudden they are out, abandoned, in the middle of the (emotional) ocean, without a life ring.  They are scared and they are terrified. (and maybe angry and confused) OF COURSE they are going to cling to whatever they had or had lost. And of course, they will be “clingy” to their friends or those who will listen. Or the first half-way good situation which comes along, which is also why people get into similar relationship patterns over and over and over.  This is perfectly normal.  Let me say this again. This is perfectly normal.

I remember very clearly, an experience of one individual I knew who had suffered a severe relationship loss. The individual had lost not one but two relationships of some significant time (3 or more years) over 10 years. The individual struggled to overcome his loss. And yet was told: “Just get over it!”, “Let it go!” , etc, etc. Wrong. The individual could no more let it go, than the poor person, who could not swim, abandoned out in the middle of the ocean with no dry land in sight and with only a life ring. The individual was absolutely clinging therefore to the last valid relationship in their life. This was normal as there was no other relationship on the horizon.

So.... If you are in a loss of some sort. Reject the comments that say: “Just get over it” , because it just makes you feel worse. Why? Because the implication is subtle that one just needs to do some simple step in order to overcome the loss. Nope.

There are other gurus out there who say that this is what you need to do, but I believe they are wrong. One cannot let go of your life-line, until one feels safe enough to know that there is something to replace it. Full stop.

Now, that having been said..... They are also right. ..... Hunh???


Yes, they are right. Quite apart from the fact that your well-meaning friend has somewhat callously or insensitively told you to “get past it”, he or she is kind of right. I won’t get into the fact that perhaps your well-meaning friend may also not have a whole lot of emotional space internally to show you empathy and that they may be a significant problem for they themselves. But they are indeed right. How, you may ask?

I’ll tell you.

When a person begins to identify so much so with their past and past experience, it begins to create a vicious circle. You identify as _________ (fill-in-the-blank) and so you continue to act like the person you have been and the experiences you have had.  You subtly recreate the same self-perpetuating experiences you have always had. With of course the same result.  And sometimes, by sheer will, by sheer necessity, as in the case of the character Cher plays in Moonstruck, one needs to ignore (or try to) what one is currently feeling in order to create a new identity. This is sometimes how people who have grown up in the most horrendous social upbringings are able to completely change their lives and throw off the past chains of their history.  

 So, you need to think of yourself differently. However the problem is, just like the person clinging to the life ring, UNTIL they start to let go of the ring and start actively paddling they will always be dependent (not co-dependent!) upon  having that life ring.  And unfortunately learning to let go and swim can only be accomplished when you feel relaxed enough that you aren’t afraid you are going to drown! It’s a paradox.

Put it this way, say you have lost a relationship, a job, a physical function for example. You will feel a tremendous amount of anxiety, you will grieve, be angry, will wish you could go back in time and change things back to the way they were. And your identity and emotional state will be locked into where you are and where you were, when things were “right”. And of course you will not be feeling relaxed and calm. Not at all.

But! If you can “get over it” or “let it go” --- which usually happens after all the acknowledgement of grief. THEN! You can feel confident enough to find a new relationship, a job or a way around your physical disability. And that involves being creative and open.

The ironic part is people can rarely find creative, fun, nifty solutions to their problem(s), when they are stuck and afraid and still identified in their loss.  Because, surprise! surprise! Anxiety/depression run absolutely counter to a creative mindset.

So acknowledge your loss. If you are down in the dumps. Don’t let anyone tell you: “ Just get over it!” You will get over it in direct proportion to the decrease of fear you feel when you look at what your loss means to you and to how you identify. Creation is a courageous act of sheer will. And the more courage you can muster and/or creatively you can think, the faster the change will come.

And think of this ABBA song. You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end.

I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

If you are interested in this or other posts, why not click on the Google + button or submit your email, either way and follow?

Take care,


P.S., here it is: