Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Cinderella Law - let's be realistic.

On March 31st, the Government announced that they were proposing a law against severe emotional abuse of children. It was quickly renamed the ‘Cinderella Law’.

I believe this law is unworkable and successful prosecutions will be impossible. The winners will be the lawyers.

I support action to reduce any type of abuse of children and my favourite charity is ChildLine. I support as much discussion as possible on the subject and what follows is my pennyworth.

The proposal is for a law which states: 
Emotional abuse can include continually singling out a child, humiliation, repeated verbal attacks or forcing them to suffer degrading punishments.
If the law, as it stands today, sometimes has problems proving what has caused brain damage or broken limbs in childhood, how can the law interpret what a child experienced and feels is humiliation or a degrading punishment? And who is administering the abuse and will face prosecution?
The level of abuse is complex too. Most abusive verbal comments in childhood, can be thrown aside and dismissed, as the child matures emotionally into an adult. Sometimes, one throwaway comment can cause a lifetime of emotional health problems. The problems are not black and white. The context, tonality and interpretation will all have to be taken into account. 
Action for Children appears to focus on parenting, but emotional abuse as listed above, can come a variety of people.
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings
  • Other children.
  • Other family members
  • Teachers and school staff
  • Church leaders
  • Youth organisations leader
Will they all be included? They should be if the law is to be credible. But I suggest that the consequences will be unworkable.

The majority of mental health problems are actually emotional health problems. The majority of emotional health problems arise from a fundamental feeling of ‘not being good enough'.  Feeling not good enough to be loved or to receive attention in healthy ways being the main ones. The majority of these ‘not good enough’ feelings arise in childhood and could be attributed to an action that may be construed as emotional abuse by the new law.

This is one of the reasons medication isn’t always effective, but solution-focused therapies working on emotions, thoughts and behaviours can more successful in helping an adult manage their emotions in a more mature way.

There is no denying that emotional abuse exists and it can be very cruel and traumatise young people. It can traumatise older people too. But it will be impossible to prove in a court of law. Surely, every individual can say that at some point in their life, they were criticised, humiliated, punished and teased by one or several people. Perhaps they were, but was it emotional abuse?

The following are real cases. Would they, could they, should they come to court?
  • The middle-aged woman with a travelling phobia, which was putting her career in jeopardy. It was rooted to feelings of inadequacy because at her eighth birthday party, her  mother welcomed a friend to her party by saying, “oh don’t you look pretty?” “Should I tell my mother that she ruined my life?”, she asked.
  • Parents who don’t support their child in their activities, leaving a resentful adult. eg: The father who only enjoys motor sports and so never watched his son play football, even when he was in competitions.
  • The man whose marriage broke up due to his tantrums. Often around times when his wife and children were going out and he couldn’t join them. Rooted in a childhood, where he had to stay in and do piano practice and wasn’t allowed to play out with friends.
  • The woman whose adult anxiety was driven by her older siblings telling her that she was a child of woe because she was born on a Wednesday?
  • The sixty year old, who told me recently that their life was ruined when their brother was born when he was five and his mother became unwell.
  • The mother who couldn’t take her children into town shopping or to London to see the sights, because of a pigeon phobia. Rooted in siblings terrifying her with a feather duster and saying her pillows were full of dead birds.
  • The numerous people with disabling problems with perfection due to parental/educational admonishments if something wasn’t completed perfectly. 
  • The excruciating embarrassment that teenagers can feel when with their parent in company.
  • Children smothered by ‘helicopter parenting’, who don’t know how to manage adult life events on their own.
  • Healthy children still in nappies in primary school.
  • The numerous relationship problems arising from one parent transferring their suppressed anger and resentment, often quite unconsciously, to the child that most resembles their partner.
  • The feelings of humiliation of always being chosen last in team games at school.
  • The constant being ‘picked on’ by a teacher or organisation leader.
For physical and emotional abuse by a grandparent and the reasons behind it, Felicity Davis’s childhood makes sobering reading.

If the law is aimed at parents, what about the emotional mayhem caused to children by:
  • Parents separating and divorcing.
  • Parents/grandparents dying.
  • Parents with addictions and obsessions.
  • Parents/siblings with ill health problems.
  • Famous or high achieving parents.
  • Parents who are too liberal or too strict.
  • Redundancy.
  • Relocation.
As I’ve gone through life, I’m quite surprised that its other people who can recall incidents of humiliation, degrading punishments and verbal attacks, of which, I was on the receiving end. I recall many, but not all. Most of it was due to people who were stressed, using acceptable language and behaviour for that time in history or just peer group behaviour.
My own behaviour? Could my children, my school friends, the children I cared for, find a reason to blame me for something. Probably.  That throwaway comment, the loss of temper, the moment of frustration, the immaturity, the toe-curling embarrassment.
Rather than repeat myself, one of the chapters in the book is about blame. I’ve ‘cut and paste’ parts of the chapter before its final edit. 

                                         Chapter 12
                          “It’s not my fault. They did it.”
                                Taking Responsibility

Quote:   “When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” Robert Anthony 

Why do we, as adults, so readily blame others for actions that we have personally taken? Because we did it as children and haven’t grown up to take mature, adult responsibility. We were frightened that we’d get into trouble, so said anything that would take the blame away from us. Did we really like ourselves then when we dumped someone else in it? It might of got us out of immediate trouble, but did it make us feel good about ourselves? Immediately, yes probably. Later on though?  

It’s funny when we hear children saying silly things like “It wasn’t my fault, it was his or hers”, especially when it’s obvious it wasn’t. But is it any sillier than us saying “ It the government’s fault” 
Here are some everyday blaming statements. It’s wasn’t my fault...
  • He wouldn’t get out of bathroom
  • She didn’t put the alarm on
  • It was the dog/cat/kids
  • The weather 
One of my favourites:
“ It’s not my fault, I wasn’t told.” “ Did you ask/listen?”  “ I shouldn’t have to”

Sports people provide endless illustrations of blaming something or someone else. A French player Zinadine Zadane,  who was playing in his last match, head butted an Italian opponent in the chest. In front of three billion people he didn’t get away with it, but what was his excuse. “The Italian had insulted his mother”. A teacher on a radio phone- in was in despair. “How can I teach my pupils to take responsibility. Every day in the playground, I hear, “ he called me mum a rude name.”

More recently, another footballer bit an opponent’s arm. The next day, children were doing a ‘Saurez’ in the playground and biting other children. 

I’m picking on footballers, because they get enormous publicity, but racing drivers, cyclists, golfers and tennis players all can behave in an immature, childish way. John McEnroe, the American tennis player is probably still the best example of stunted emotional growth ever seen and that was back in the 1970s. 

Footballers aren’t the only role models that we learn from. It’s astonishing how many politician’s mistakes are the media’s fault, when they are found out. 

When it comes to ourselves, there’s a whole army of institutions to blame:
  • The speeding fine is the government’s fault.
  • Our bounced cheque is the bank’s fault. 
  • Being overweight is the food manufacture’s fault. 
  • Being late is the transport company’s fault
  • Getting drunk is the pub’s fault.
  • Going to bed late is the TV company’s fault.
One of my husband’s colleagues was describing a relative, “"It was not that the glass is half full or half empty, but a case of 'Who's been drinking out of my glass?”

There are also so many people to blame: family, neighbours, teachers, classmates, bosses, colleagues, the weather forcaster.

Then there is the biggest of all. The fault of birth. Parents can’t win, but then Philip Larkin knew that, with his iconic poem, ‘This be the verse’ and it’s famous first line, “They f**k you up, your mum and dad”, which I’ve had quoted to me many times. (It's the 2nd verse that's more important.)

I have also heard all these as an explanation for present difficulties:
  • I was an only child/I  was in a big family/I was the eldest child/I was the middle child/I was the youngest child”
  • I wasn’t loved/ I was loved too much”
  • I had no freedom/I had too much freedom”
  • They didn’t care what I did/They cared too much what I did
  • My parents divorced/My parents stayed together”
  • I was suffocated/I was given to much independence”
  • I was made to go to university/I wasn’t given a chance to go to university”
  • My mother worked/My mother stayed at home”
  • My parents divorced/My parents stayed together.”
  • I was spoilt/I was neglected”
  • I went to a school that was too academic./I went to a school that didn’t stretch me.”
  • I’m an Aries/I was born on a Wednesday.”
and so on and so it goes on and a picture emerges. When something happens that we don’t like, we will tend to put the blame on to something/someone else.

Where is personal responsibility?

We do not live in isolation. We touch one another in our lives. Our words and deeds are like a pebble we drop in the water and the ripples can go on and on and on......But who threw the pebble? 

Do we blame our actions on someone or something else or do we take responsibility for our own actions?


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Let the past go.

       The monthly column in the York Press. Published April 7th, 
       Plus added paragraph*.
April’s Column

There were times recently, when I felt as if I was being hurled around the universe in Dr Who's Tardis. No adventures in the future, but numerous trips, both physical and emotional, into the past. These included two funerals, a college reunion, a BBC5Live anniversary reunion, a grandson in a school concert playing a superb Beatles medley and the first Mother's Day after my mother's death last year.
Emotions experienced ranged from hilarity, laughter, poignancy, joy, sadness to tears. To my surprise, most tears trickled down my cheek at the school concert.

Over two weeks, I met some wonderful, inspiring, courageous, ordinary people. People who reminded me of past loves, hurts, adventures, successes, failures, hopes and dashed expectations.  And that's the point. Whatever the experiences, they were all in the past.

It was boys at the concert that really bought this home. Two hundred teenage boys full of expectations of a future, just as I was, when listening to the Beatles music in the 1960s.  Expectations of life that will turn out to be nothing like they may be imagining. 

I discovered as a psychotherapist, that the majority of reasons people become unwell with emotional health problems, is that they are endeavouring to change things in their life that cannot be changed.  Too often people want to change the past and get stuck in therapy, on medication or with addictive behaviours, trying to do the impossible or waiting for the impossible to happen.
          * It came towards the end of a residential study week for the   
       psychotherapy diploma in 2000. The subject under discussion
       was 'Spare Capacity'. The tutor explained that, as therapists
       we should make sure we had 'spare capacity' for the work we
       were about to undertake. Physical and emotional spare        
       capacity.  I would add ethical principles too.

       So it was in 2010, when three years of family illness elsewhere

       in the UK, a house renovation and move, a downsizing of the
       practice and writing about the subject matter of emotional 
       maturity, that one day a client sat in front of me and my
       feelings were ones of frustration. Frustration that the client
      wanted to cling on to the past, believing it would change. They
      were not ready to change the present and future.

       I went home and knew that I had no spare capacity left. No

       spare capacity to 'care'.  I knew that I shouldn't see clients
       anymore. I couldn't be true to my ethical principles and run an
       ethical practice.

       I still felt I could help people and loved writing. As a result

       in 2013, the book was published and it gives me a deep sense
       of satisfaction, when feedback confirms that I made the right

Imagine a rainbow.
It could be a memory of a real experience, or a figment of the imagination. 
We become lost in wonder at the rainbow’s form and the spectrum of rich colours in a changing sky. 
We are momentarily entranced and we marvel at the rainbow’s natural beauty and its transient nature.
Our eyes wander to where the end of it disappears... The image fades. 
It was a moment of innocent wonder and curiosity. 
For a few precious seconds the intrusion of our everyday activities was excluded. 
No harm was done. In fact, we may even feel uplifted.
Now, let us imagine another rainbow. 
Again, we become entranced by it, but this time we concentrate on where the rainbow ends. 
We remember the stories and myths we heard as children. 
Is there really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? 
A pot of gold that would provide a resolution to all our problems? 
We want it, and we want it now!
Leaving common sense and reason behind, we chase the end of the rainbow, again and again. 
We keep trying, but the end is just out of reach and always unobtainable. 
We feel disappointed, frustrated and weary. 
Will we ever reach it? No. The pot of gold of resolution is the delusion in the illusion, but we continue to reach for and chase the end of the rainbow. 
In fact, the more we try, the more we can become deluded. 
We can become emotionally and physically unwell.