Thursday, 31 December 2015

Taking control over the emotion of memories

This is the *extended Wellbeing column, published in the York Press on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015.

As yet, there is no link to the York Press website. No doubt due to staff on holiday.

This is the last column for 2015 and I have been asked to continue writing a monthly column in 2016, my third year of writing for York Press. So see you next year!

“Strange how potent cheap music is.” Noel Coward.  Private Lives.

If music, cheap or otherwise, was not potent, then it wouldn't be used by advertising agencies to sell merchandise. At this time of year, we seem to be assaulted everywhere by Christmas music. Our brains block out most of it, but for many, there are one or two tunes that will ‘hijack’ our emotional brain and makes us stop and reflect on a memory that has come to mind. Perhaps our eyes become moist or we inwardly smile. Then most of us will stop the train of thought that is usually heading back into the past and get on with whatever we are doing in the present.

Personally, Chris Rea brings smiles from a warm memory, while choirs singing carols can bring tears of loss.

At home or in the car, I can listen to music of my own choosing. There is little choice elsewhere and I can be ‘emotionally hijacked’ in seconds.  The first thought cannot be helped, but there is control over the second.  If I wish to be self-indulgent and dwell in self-pity, it’s my choice. On rare occasions I will chose to continue to listen to music that makes me feel miserable, through the memories it evokes. Bittersweet memories.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often offered to people when their thoughts and subsequent behaviours are unhelpful. People can be helped to take control and change their thoughts, internal dialogue and actions. A thought will be triggered by an emotional reaction to something sensory. A smell, sight, taste, feel or touch. I’m writing about music, but it could be anything. Sometimes it’s not an obvious memory and we can often wonder why we’ve reacted in certain ways. 

It’s this brain function that can make Christmas time such an emotional time, with its variety of sensory triggers. Many people don’t like it for that reason. It’s also a time for trying to recapture the past, which is impossible and can cause disappointment with unfulfilled expectations.

If I was granted a wish by the Christmas fairy, it would be to have the family at home, around the table on Christmas Day.  This is logistically not possible, so this year we arranged to have a pre-Christmas gathering in late autumn instead. I looked at the extended family interacting and dwelled on the ‘if onlys' and ‘what ifs’. I was living in the past. It felt sad. Then I changed my internal dialogue. If I focused my mind on the past, I was going to miss what was happening in the present. I had the opportunity to make new memories. It became a cognitive exercise, not dissimilar to Mindfulness. I changed my train of thought and enjoyed the moment. I was making new memories. I felt happier.

*Over the Christmas period, I have been 'emotionally hijacked' on many occasions.  I always had a choice of where I took the train of thoughts and what mood ensued. Sometimes I indulged myself, because a duvet of self-indulgant misery can be strangely comforting at times. But only for the short-term. 

None of us know exactly what tomorrow will bring, let alone a whole year. I wish you all the emotional strength to manage whatever comes your way, bad and good, sad and happy, despair and elation, failure and success, pain and pleasure and all the ordinariness of in between.  

Here's to 2016 with my favourite quote.

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." Helen Keller


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Following on from law 29.12.2015

This news item follows on from the previous blog. 

Next Tuesday, January 5th, a new law will be put into effect: "It aims to reduce psychological bullying that includes extreme psychological and emotional abuse, even if it does not amount to physical violence..."

There was a good discussion about the new law on Radio 4 PM at 17.00pm. It starts at 48mins. The programme uses dialogue from the fictional, but realistic dialogue in The Archers radio soap opera, that was also previously mentioned.

I am very pleased that psychological abuse is being recognised, but have a concern is that it will be difficult to prove in many cases. Vulnerable, manipulated people could be further manipulated by the legal process. 

As a member of Soroptimist International, I mainly support women and children, but men can also experience psychological abuse from women. Women are by no means saints. Children can experience psychological abuse from either or both parents and even grandparents. Sad. 

Anyone reading this blog for the first time, please read the previous blog for the list of behaviours that identifies both abusive behaviour and loving behaviour.