It looks like the more we stay in lockdowns, the more interesting things happen.
The last few days it has been all over the greek media the revelations that men in authoritative positions have been abusing their power to molest and insult their male or female colleagues.
It seemed that the 'Aeolian bag' has opened and more and more people, mainly females, are coming out to talk about their verbal, physical or emotional abuse.
The 'why now?' question is often used in therapy to place a discussed issue within a context and give some perspective to the current situation, but I feel in this matter, the question is somehow irrelevant. Because 'now it is the time to speak freely and be listened to' lots of victims state. Maybe they are right, as it seems a good opportunity due to the mandatory introspection that the lockdowns impose and the subsequent realisations that come from it.
The whole issue became huge very quickly and reminded me of an article I wanted to write about celebrities and their influence.
I have been observing for many months now how various actors/actresses, tv presenters, singers and other famous people advertising through their social media various products, from snacks and cheese to sauce pans and cars. For a minute I thought we were back on the 90's where the ads during the tv were lasting longer than the actual programme.
I thought to myself: 'Could it still be happening? People actually are buying things that their favourite actors suggests them to?' and I stayed reflecting upon that thought for a while.
I can understand how people have the need to admire someone special, to get hope and courage from people who have achieved something quite big in their lives, but the extent to which that occurs it is not easy for me to comprehend. That was, also, exactly what I was thinking when I was studying mass media, communication and advertising: 'people do not know what they need and what they like and they need someone famous to tell them what to buy?!' And then I turned into psychotherapy...
I do understand that people need guidance. We need a teacher at school to pass on some knowledge, we need our parents as guides to show us what is good and bad in life in early ages, they are responsible to keep us alive and somehow functional, content and maybe happy. We later on get our first jobs and there is someone senior who 'knows better' and has been in the job for longer than us. We admire this person and look at them with awe as they have accomplished something that we want to accomplish too, to become successful by mastering our art, whatever that is!
There is nothing necessarily wrong with having role models and people who we admire. We actually need those people as helpers to shed some light in our paths. Usually, these people hold qualities and achievements that we want for ourselves too so, through them, we connect to the possibility of happiness and success.
What happens, though, when their values are opposite to ours? What happens when the very same person that we look up to and respect, approach us in a way that crosses our personal and/or professional boundaries? What do we do then?
I imagine that we feel shock, conflict and disappointment that the person that was an important figure for us, turns out to be someone that not only we do not like, but also that we have to defend against. Our guide becomes our threat, an enemy that we need to assert ourselves in front of and set our clear boundaries; us that we are the 'newbies', the 'newcomers, the 'novices' in work and life.
I would. also. imagine that some people would assert themselves immediately and leave the situation or place, or fight it until they find justice and peace within themselves.
Some other people might do nothing, because they need the job or they fear to challenge the authority, feel confusion, shame and guilt for what has happened accusing themselves for even slightly provoking the situation.
The root cause in both the aforementioned situations for me is similar, 'the ownership of the inner authority'. Especially, but of course not exclusively, the greek mentality assumes that a parent, a teacher, an authority, a celebrity are not to be questioned as they are experts of some sort. This automatically leads to an internalisation of that figure as superior, 'they know something more to be calling me names' etc. Utterly bullshit!
When we think that someone is better than us because of their position, their knowledge, their experience, their looks, their achievements etc is like we give them the power to exercise it on us as they please.
I am not talking here about respect. Respect is a very healthy value that a person can earn with their actions and everything they stand for.
I am talking about our own view of ourselves. Luckily over the years, there have been improvements and we are not, for example, hitting children in schools like our parents used to experience in order to become 'good people'.
Passing knowledge and values through fear or harsh behaviours feels so outdated and it has clearly proven that it hurts more than does good. It, actually, hurts in multiple levels, the most important for me being that the person loses connection with their own authority. They learn right from the beginning that they are here to obey their parents, their teachers, god, whoever have some sort of power. Of course, following the tactic of fear, imposing and punishment, we either create obedience or resistance.
Obedience creates 'slaves' and people who learn to put other people's needs before their own.
Resistance creates 'rebels' who are constantly arguing against authority, power and their opinion.
Both extremes can be problematic for an individual and they come with a split into their consciousness where an unexpressed part is being projected onto someone else (good or bad) outside.
A 'healthy' and free adult is someone who can exercise their own free will to choose what they do based on their own values and not based on what they have learned 'should do'.
We are all incredibly unique and special, hence we can not have rules that apply to all of us without exceptions.
What we can learn and ask for, though, both from ourselves and the others is dignity, respect for our own beliefs, boundaries, values and desires on how we 'spend' ourselves.
It is this self authority that actually judges and decides whether an experience is for our own benefit or not, and then we can take the relevant action. It is this inner authority that can decide whether it is of value to us to buy the product that our favourite actor presents to us so idyllically.
It could be a life long process to realise what masks we are wearing, where they are coming from, if they fit us or not, choosing the mask that feels more like our authentic selves.
It is always a very personal choice...
As always my interaction with the world, my observations and my own process inform this writing.
Today, I feel I have got a strong message which came from several sides and that concerns the issue of trust.
In Greek the noun 'trust' is called 'em-pistosini' which means the faith on something or someone.
Immediately that describes something that is, simultaneously, humane and beyond.
The humane part means that one 'strongly believes' that they are not going to be fooled, that they are going to be taken care of, that they are being told the truth, that they can rely on someone or something and so on.
The beyond humane part signifies 'having faith in god, in life, in something beyond this word, faith that things will be ok, that they will work out themselves and be resolved, that there is hope in the most difficult times etc'. This is a more religious & spiritual perspective which recognises that we are not the sole determinants of everything in our lives.
I will discuss a bit more the humane aspect here, as it is in this human & physical field that things tend to show their messiness.
Having faith in the physical world may apply in many situations from having faith that a street lamp is not going to fall on me to having confidence in a sincere person, a relationship and so on. Having confidence can be also applied to ourselves: How confident do you feel within yourself? How much do you trust yourself that they are going to create a life of happiness? How much do you trust yourself that they are going to be successful or create a relationship that it is going to be fulfilling?
Some people will be very certain to answer that they are very confident within themselves, that they can achieve whatever they aim for and that there are very few things that they can not have or give to themselves. These people are more likely coming from secure backgrounds, where they were told that they can indeed achieve anything they want and somehow that was also proven in their subsequent lives.
Other people will reply with uncertainty and maybe with more 'little' than 'much' trusting themselves. These people, as you can imagine, probably come from more unstable backgrounds where their worth was not actually mirrored to them and their needs were not quite adequately met.
Some of you might be thinking that 'the card' about the wounded child and difficult childhood has been overly played and, maybe, you are partially right, because childhood 'failures' may often be used as excuses for someone to progress in their lives.
My point here, though, is that as we grow up, wearing the costume of adult, we continue maintaining a relationship with ourselves on the basis of our early experiences, be that positive or negative.
The relationship with ourselves is the most crucial and important relationship we ever going to have in our lives. This relationship determines the 'successes' or the 'failures' in our lives. We might have the best ideas, the greatest of intentions and skills, but if we do not trust ourselves to move us through, then everything else is left to luck or to the unknown.
In the relationship with oneself, I feel that trust plays a key role, because it almost means 'carrying'. When we say 'I trust' myself we 'hold' ourselves, the same thing that our legs do to the rest of our bodies every day. It is this part of ourselves that we can rely on and assures us that we can do whatever we need to do. It is our spiritual bone structure that we can go to in moments of fear, despair, helplessness, anxiety, loss and destruction. It is this goddess who in a battlefield will help to bring out the gold from the souls.
The lack of trust is the disbelief and the absence of support. The lack of trust leads to a very tricky and unstable ground where anything can happen at any time and that is really scary. When there is lack of self trust then the self becomes the enemy and there is a constant battle between conflicting parts which, simply, have not learned to work together; they have mainly learned that in order to survive they have to 'kill' the other at all costs.
Do you understand how vicious and threatening that may be proven for the wellbeing of some people?
It is a big myth that trust is one of these things that one either has it or not; it is learned and exercised. A toddler when attempts to make their first steps, they hold on to things until they feel strong enough to let go off them and then... they fall! This is how we have all learned how to walk, by falling! If we were always holding on to things, we would have never taken the risk to walk.
It is inherent in the human system to trust. The toddler somewhere deep inside them knows that they can walk, they just have to keep trying until they are strong enough to succeed.
How different our world would be, if we all consciously learned that when we were young!
There is, also, another layer to the toddler story, a more hidden one. The toddler every time they fall, they get disappointed, disheartened, maybe a bit embarrassed too, but somehow without even 'talking' to themselves, they can support themselves and give them the courage to overcome or better to counterbalance those feelings and try once more. It is, also, important how the environment responds to them, by encouragement or disappointment?
I have seen so many people (including myself at times) struggling to offer that support to themselves on a permanent basis. For someone that has never really 'fall', there is no need for support, but for people who have really 'fallen' or felt unsupported by their environment, then it does take a lot of courage to support themselves and learn that 'it is ok to fall'', that they are not perfect and it is ok to receive support, that they can ask for what they need and not just for what is offered.
This, inevitably, takes my back to unconditional love. If we try to accept and love our deepest, ugliest, darkest, embarrassing and peculiar sides, then automatically they become beautiful, lighter and worth living sides of ourselves, which can be trusted and not to be afraid of.
The lack of trust on a large scale can create an unhealthy socio-political environment such as the one in Greece.
I recently had an appointment with the greek tax office office to produce and authorise an official document that I needed. Due to covid restrictions, I booked an appointment with an employee for a specific time and date I could go in. I presented myself at the agreed time and date to the door, only to find out that the employee did not go to work on that day and no alternative arrangements have been made for my appointment.
I lost trust once again to the Greek authorities. The lack of organisation in Greece is world famous and resembles the one of a third world country, where only if you are lucky or you know someone, you will be helped, otherwise you can spend hours and days trying to figure out a solution to the problem that the state creates for you and can not solve.
These situations always take me to a helpless state, which I knew well while I was growing up and it was one of the reasons I left the country as soon as I could, longing to experience another way of being. Like the toddler, I knew there was a better way of being, which I discovered both within me and outside me (luckily!).
My appointment did happen in the end thanks to the kindness of another employee who was, already, overwhelmed with work and was making sure that everyone present knew about it (you know, the greek dramatic and tragic way!).
The observation and consequent question remain though: there have been so many politicians over the years, there have been so may changes and no one has ever thought to simplify those processes?
The Greek state was and still is a very mistrusting state, there are so many seals that have to be put on a document in order to be authorised that any queen would be jealous of!
Simultaneously, there are so many illegalities happening unpunished on a daily basis by citizens, that turns the state-citizen relationship into one of a mafia, where the mother covers for its children and vice versa. There is no adult costume here, do not even try to look for it, there are mainly two children fighting or loving each other depending on the occasion.
When we create and step into an adult position, then we can acknowledge all our parts, honour them and our feelings and make decisions that reflect our values and our aspirations. In that position we can have the freedom and power to choose if we want to behave in a childish or more strict way to situations as opposed to be feeing directed only to one pole without a choice.
Creating trust within ourselves allows us to live with support and love at all times. Trust is not blind, it needs constant feeding and can directs us towards where we want to go; the big question each time is where do we want to go? It might not be a specific place, but can be a direction, a path and a route.
When we know it, then we can gather all our strength and qualities and make the effort to get there where our soul needs to go, just like the toddler.
I do hope the Greek state and citizens will consciously answer that question for themselves one day!
Today I am writing about something that I have experienced a lot on a personal and professional level and I feel that that we do not often talk about or understand it enough.
Besides the odd commentaries and opinions before that, I initially heard about 'bipolar disorder' during my psychotherapy training among other clinical diagnosis of mental health illnesses. There are these lists that psychiatric associations and institutions have created with symptoms and criteria for diagnosis. If a person fits the majority or all the criteria, then they were given the 'label': 'bipolar' or formerly 'manic-depressive'. This diagnosis in very basic terms describes a person with extreme consecutive 'high' and 'low' mood episodes.
The 'high' mood can include an very elevated and happy state where the person can spend lots of money unnecessarily, gamble, take drugs, break up important relationships and, generally, exhibit behaviours that do not belong to its 'normal' self. In the 'low' mood the person falls into severe depression with feelings of helplessness, shame and guilt suffering the consequences from the actions during the 'high' mood.
Does any of these traits sound familiar?
I have always been suspicious with diagnosis mainly because they are focusing on symptoms, criteria and 'problematic' behaviours rather than the causes of these behaviours and more importantly with the solutions to change them.
With the years and by seeing extreme cases of people who were putting their lives in danger, I came to appreciate the contribution of psychiatry and medicine to the management of severe forms of mental health illnesses.
I have seen people become more stable when their are on medication for bipolar disorder (mainly mood stabilisers) maybe partially because they feel they are doing something about it. The angle that I am coming from in the matter has more to do with the psychology and the formation of the behaviour and how, ultimately, a person can have a more stable and fulfilling life.
Imagine that you have in front of you a young child that pride is an important value for him or her. He wants to be good at school and wants to be naughty too. He is smart and does not like when he is being told off as he takes it really at heart, especially when he has taken the blame for something that he has not done. He is very sensitive to other people's feelings and tends to put his feelings second in order no to cause friction and unpleasant behaviours to the people he loves.
Imagine now that this child is growing up in a family where there is a little bit of chaos (like there is another way for a family to be!). Mother and father are often fighting, they are giving mixed messages to the children of what is good or bad and what is expected of them or not, without giving any explanations, there is no justice in the family system and people are being blamed in the wrong, there is no sufficient and firm guidance on principles of life such as freedom, responsibility, emotional recognition and expression, clarity of roles, accepted behaviours, love and so on.
It feels like the list of dysfunctional behaviours could be endless, but you get the gist of it.
I am aware that many parents are going to think now: '...but I did my best, how could I know that my child felt confused or is going to have some serious bipolar traits? Do you know how difficult it was for me to grow up in my family environment and also create my own family?
Of course the parent has her/his own experience and take on on their parenting skills. It is not about blaming here, but understanding. The fact that someone felt neglected, hurt and did not receive what he needed as a child does not mean that he can not do the same to his own children, if he is not conscious of the impact of his actions.
When a child with the above background and personality traits becomes an adult we can imagine that their life will be a bit confusing. They might not know who they are serving, really, themselves or someone else? They will not probably know how to access support and guidance from their environment as they do not know that a supportive and stable environment is possible for them. They might not have the confidence in making decisions and forming relationships that are going to survive difficult feelings that are caused by disagreement or fights.
When a child is receiving conflicting messages from their environment- like any person would do- they are finding ways to close the gap and control the tension they are feeling by creating a 'story', like that 'it was my fault', 'they do not care about me' etc, by taking one side of the conflict neglecting the other or by not trusting the environment all together for guidance and support. That leaves them feeling vulnerable in their lives as not only they have learned that there is no one trustworthy to go to, but, also, by internalising the aforementioned dynamics, they are not able to trust themselves!
It is not by accident that certain people develop certain illnesses, both physical and mental, and other people different ones. Or to say it better, every mental illness, every behaviour we adopt, every strategy we use to react to life is our own unique way to respond to our life experiences.
In the example above the person has not dealt with and, thus, has not learned how to deal with difficult situations and the associated feelings, including standing up for themselves despite the cost. It is more likely that they will either 'fall under them' or 'rise above them' those feelings as a coping mechanism to deal with the conflicting (both internal & external) demands. Here they are, the 'high' and 'low' moods.
Imagine you are about to climb a mountain; you have not done it before and, normally, you might feel scared and, simultaneously, excited as that would be something new. If you start climbing and things are more challenging than you thought they would be, then what would you do?
A possible adult (mature) reaction would be to feel sad that you did not fulfil your desire, but you would still praise yourself for the effort you put in and maybe encourage her to give it another go in the future. Another person might give up blaming themselves for being a coward because they did not try enough etc. or they might continue climbing by losing connection with their fear, terror, fatigue and helplessness resulting in over estimating their abilities and possibly ending up in harming themselves.
This is in very generic terms the dipole between 'over-achieving' and 'under pressure'. In fact many high achieving, successful professionals are functional, diagnosed or non diagnosed bipolar who have frozen their feelings and feel only alive when they achieve; anything else is a hated failure from which they will ran away at all costs.
Working with people in deep, soul level can be challenging by itself at times. Working, though, with someone who presents with strong bipolar traits can be even more challenging as it can feel like there is no ground, there is either flying or being underground; there is no stability, no hope, not something to rely on and ground oneself in.
However frightening or difficult this may be, it is ultimately the reality that all of us live in to some extent.
Nothing really is set in stone. Relationships end, jobs are changing, the world is changing and this can be more challenging for some people than others. People who are overly attached to stability or they have never experienced it as such, they will tend to suffer more. We all need a level of stability in order to build our lives upon, but if we place too much emphasis on stability and ask for it in places (or people) that can not provide it, then this can become a problem.
The biggest challenge for people is to realise that ultimately the answers (and the support) lie mainly within us, if we 'dig' deep enough in our hearts and existence.
There are a few factors that work as lighthouses for me when it comes to extreme states of being in general, not just bipolar.
Follow one's own truth
My antidote or better the path that my soul chose to follow is the one of honesty, freedom and grounding. It is only when we find our own voice, our own truth, our own power in every situation that we can feel at home and relax. For some people that requires training as they may not be used to trusting and give credits to their voice of truth. There is great bravery and risk when one stands by their truth and needs while the possible costs are painful and, yet, less important than the gains. Sometimes the voice itself might sound confused and unclear and that is ok: decisions often bring conflicting options and feelings with them. Staying with the conflict will help clarifying your values, what is really important for you. When that clarity comes, then be prepared to withstand they break down of your old life and to move mountains.
Make your voice heard
Often we feel that we have to deal with challenging situations by ourselves and we retreat in our caves. Sharing our struggles can help in two ways, firstly, by feeling heard as we listen ourselves describing our challenges and, secondly, by receiving a piece of advice, information or something from someone else who is more distant and possibly more objective than us.
Unconditional love and self care
Mania and depression are both harsh states. There is a situation, a demand, a need that is so difficult for the person that he will have to move away from his centre (if he even got to know where that is) to the tortures of hell or the skies of heaven, where he feels untouchable. In both cases there is very little love, there is just survival from one state to the other, from one situation to another, going through the motions like watching a film without understanding it or participating in any way.
What if we try to spread some love in every step of that journey?
I am aware that this is easier said than being done, especially for people who have lived the majority of their lives feeling that there is something wrong with them or that they have always done something wrong to be blamed for.
Train ourselves moment to moment, day to day, week to week that we are enough, we are doing our best at all times, we are loved at every single moment without any 'buts'. We are unconditionally loved full stop, for no reason, just for being, just for who we are in our totality.
I am fully aware that for some people that might sound gibberish but is actually true. It is when we lose contact with that truth that we harshly judge ourselves and accuse them for everything that goes 'wrong', even if it is not our fault and beyond our control.
Are you aware of the effort and training that is required for an athlete to become champion?
That is the commitment and the effort we need to show in a continual basis for self care and self love. They are not given, for granted, they are actions towards ourselves every single day!
Early life experiences both pleasant and difficult shape who we have become, how we interact with the world and how we create our lives. Getting to know oneself is the first step of changing what is dysfunctional within us and holds as back.
They have formed our lives so far, lets not allow them to shape our future too...