Thoughts

The argument against hope

So, I came across a concept this week which has blown my mind a little bit.

I read a book over the weekend which was hilarious and smart and for 203 pages I wholeheartedly agreed with every single point that was made. Every single point.

And then this happened.

The author mentioned that she unequivocally hates hope. That no good comes from it.

“Hope is a lie. Hope doesn’t work. Hope to be clear, doesn’t fix shit.”

Reflecting on time spent with an unwell ex-partner on a neurological ward in hospital she writes:

Even if few truly believe that pain can be treated with bone broth or a Tesla pendant, many believe in the medical power of hope. They believe that if a patient is not sufficiently ‘positive’ to believe in the possibility of a cure, however unlikely it is, then they are not prepared to live…

This is absolute bollocks, of course. Often nothing works at all. ..

These moments of hope serve only those of us in good health who do not care to see hope disappear.

It goes on. Like me, this author enjoys a rant.

Some of the ranting really resonated. There are probably a number of times we do need to be cautious with hope. Possibly during a break-up (as the author was experiencing), and maybe unrealistic hope in the face of terminal illness is unnecessary, but to be cautious all the time?

Turns out there’s some evidence that backs up her point a bit too.

Research, published in the Economic Journal, suggests that hope makes people feel worse. The researchers' starting point was what happens to the long-term unemployed when they reach retirement age. According to 25 years of German data, ‘retiring from unemployment’ delivers a significant increase in life satisfaction. It isn't explained by other factors, like a change in benefits, and the employed don't get the same boost when they retire. Nor, the authors argue, is it simply that other people judge the jobless more harshly. It's that when we're unemployed, there's always the hope of finding a job, and people "thus feel the permanent pressure to fulfil the norms of their social category… Ironically, it is hope that keeps them unhappy while unemployed, and it is only when hope fades that they will recover." Retirement means the end of hoping for a job, which feels like a release.

It’s possible that this odd notion sheds light on another mysterious but well-supported finding about trauma. As we'd expect, we take it harder when we become widowed than when we lose our jobs – but all else being equal, we actually recover more fully. It’s hypothesised that this might be because widowhood is irreversible. We’ve always got the hope of being happy again, certainly, bit no hope of changing our widow(er) status. Bereavement is a hope-free zone.

There’s a few out there who share the belief that if we give up hope we will be set free. John Ptacek, a US author, wrote of finding meaning through hopelessness after his wife's terminal cancer diagnosis: "Time spent hoping for happier days is time spent turning away from life." Derrick Jensen, an environmental campaigner, believes hope makes activism less effective since it involves placing faith in someone or something else to make things better, instead of doing what's needed yourself: "A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realise you never needed it in the first place… you become very dangerous indeed to those in power."

However, I don’t know if this is abandoning hope all together. But finding the difference between false and realistic hope. And also attempting to find the degree of agency we have.

When confronted by the reality of the concentrations camps, Victor Frankl did not hope to dig his way out of his prison. That was not possible, and such hopes would soon have been thwarted. Instead, he controlled his own mind, and (probably) vaguely hoped for something realistic—that the war would end and he might be freed. That made the difference.

Abandoning hope all together is definitely not for me. Like all the good stuff, probably another of those things best enjoyed in moderation.

I have no hopes to become the world’s most famous Beatle impersonator. Or the next Dr Phil. Much better to hope that over time people with mental illness get access to the treatment they deserve. I hope that these little cards of ours might make someone feel just a little bit better. Or that someone experiencing an episode of mental illness can have enough hope to hang on through the dark times. Like I did.

Here’s hoping.

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How does it all start?

I have been getting my life in order of late. In extremely exciting and very adult news, I have paid off my HECS debt! I now actually own my two degrees. I have consolidated my fifteen superannuation accounts. This week I got my car serviced and after a very assertive talking to from the mechanic, I have two brand new tyres. And I am going through the process of having a ‘proper’ General Practitioner. Like, a GP who actually knows me. Not just the one who is available when I've got myself an ear infection from washing my hair too frequently in the bath.

I haven’t had a regular GP since I was a very young person. So new GP – let’s call him Dr Nick, because that is his name – had a bit to catch up on. And we’ve spent time together looking over and listening to different parts of my body. And I’ve attempted to succinctly summarise my mental health history for him. This has not been as easy as I’d hoped. Turns out I’m not the eloquent historian I envisioned. And also, answering personal psychological questions short and sharp, is tough. It’s not like sitting on the couch with psychiatrist Dr Matt and being able to babble on for a forever until you think you might just nearly maybe have it sort of figured out.

Take this, question for example. Dr Nick asks – ‘Have your episodes been triggered by anything?’ (Except he didn’t ask it like this. Because he is a doctor. And sometimes doctors prefer to use really complicated language to remind us that they’re really smart. Technically he asked – ‘Have your episodes of mental illness had an etiological cause or event?’)

It’s a warranted question to ask. There is immense scientific literature on this topic. People who have a severe depressive episode are most likely to have experienced a stressful life event within the past year (like divorce, moving, job loss, death of a loved one, medical illness etc.) compared to people without mental illnesses.

But I found it a tricky question to answer. In a short GP consult.

Probably, my episodes were brought about by a complex interaction of biological, cognitive, social and psychological factors all conspiring together in wonderful ways.

What I reckon probably happens to me is that there may be a build-up of life events (yes, we could call these social factors, or environmental causes or triggers), and when these events are of a particular kind that holds an inherent threat to my sense of who I am (the psychological part) then my mood is more likely to shift. Probably downwards.

So, there’s been times in my life where there has been a lot of life events or stressors and because of the nature of these events, they’ve affected me in a particular way. There’s been periods where I have been working full time, feeling a bit anxious, but keeping my head above water, to quite a different state of mind. When I am there I feel quite different. I don’t only feel sad, I feel physically ‘changed’; heavy of limb, tired, unable to sleep yet also very agitated and restless. I ruminate about things that at other times I would be able to cope with easily and I can be full of fear and panic. When I look in the mirror I am quite sure I can see it in my eyes. There are times when my fear can shift into obsessive and paranoid thoughts and feelings of wanting to end my life. It’s terrifying and yet oddly familiar at the same time.

And there’s other times where there’s been life events or stressors that have occurred, but an episode of mental illness hasn’t followed. Why? Probably because these stressors didn’t play into my vulnerability so much. They didn’t attack my sense of self or my psychological state in the same way. Or my psychological state was stronger or more resilient at the time.

I reckon the most toxic kind of life event that can trigger depression is one that resonates with a particular aspect of the person’s underlying vulnerability. Life almost seems to conspire to match the event to the person. Eventually anyway.  

And as I’ve mentioned before that vulnerability for me is the big Ps. Please. Perform. Perfect. The belief that if I do things perfectly I can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. This comes with the nasty and debilitating belief ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it’. So when events or stressors come along that target this belief system (which happen reasonably regularly), I become more susceptible to depression and anxiety.

So why do I experience depression when others experience far worse life events then me, yet don’t become diagnosed with mental illnesses? The only way I can explain why only some of us seem to become depressed in response to life events is by drawing on the concept of vulnerability. A combination of genetic factors, early life experiences and life stresses can cumulatively add to our vulnerability. Such that, when a torrent of life events come along, those of us who have the greatest vulnerability and lowest threshold for becoming depressed, can get washed away by the waves while those who are fortunately more resilient seem to remain standing.

So, how did I respond to Dr Nick. Unfortunately not with a neat and succinct hypothesis regarding predisposing factors, psychological vulnerabilities and precicipating events. Instead I said something along the lines of “Yeah, sort of.”

Because that’s maybe nearly about right.

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Kristen's story

This is our first post from Hope Street Cards guest blogger - Kristen Malake. Welcome Kristen and we can't wait for more contributions from you!

I have a long history with mental illness. It began in middle school in the form of an eating disorder. One day a ‘friend’ taught me how to make myself throw up.  I purged, tried to hide food, threw food away and exercised in the middle of the night. One night I was going to head out with a friend. We had spaghetti for dinner and even though I ran the shower my mother could hear me throwing up. I remember a loved one saying, “if you can’t control what goes in and out of your body then you can’t go out”. But really, at that point in my life, those felt like the only 2 things I could control. That’s what eating disorders are all about anyway, right? Well, my weight loss landed me in in my first impatient hospitalization. I was there for almost 3 weeks, which is almost unheard of these days.

Following this we went to family counseling, which I did not find to be helpful at the time. The therapist asked me where I would like to start and when I spoke my thoughts, she belittled me. The silence and tears began. I said to my mom: “you talk too much”, and to my dad: “you don’t talk enough”.  Looking back, I would like to think the therapist was inexperienced because her response to me totally made me shut down. At this time, I was 16 and began my never-ending journey with medication. I am now 43 and am still taking medication. In the times that I have tried to go without, I have ended up in crisis, having suicidal situations. I have come to understand that my brain is wired in such a way that it needs certain chemicals that only medication can provide.

During this time, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. Those diagnoses never changed until only a few short years ago. The therapist I had been seeing for about 5 years was certain that I had Bipolar Disorder. Over time, it has become apparent to me that this is a true diagnosis for me, as well as the Social Anxiety Disorder.

I think society has been taught to believe that Bipolar means the same thing for everyone. The “ups” meaning feelings of exuberant joy; 2 am cleanings of the house, top to bottom; extravagant shopping sprees; losing thousands of dollars gambling, and; having multiple sexual partners in short periods of time. The “downs” meaning not being able to get out of bed; going for days without showering; missing multiple days of work; crying constantly; self-harm, and; avoidance of people. However, this is not the case for me and probably not for a lot of people. My symptoms are more subtle, to the point when I don’t always know when I am becoming manic or depressed. I usually have to check in with my husband and he is typically right. When I feel manic, I talk frequently and rapidly. Often people find me difficult to follow. I may shop more than usual, but I always keep in mind that we do live on a budget. I become more anxious and have difficulty sitting still or just relaxing. I have to be doing something to feel okay. I generally feel like the world is full of mostly good people and that I am one of those people. It is easier for me to tell when I am becoming depressed. My need or want for sleep increases and I eat more without really tasting the food. I become agitated and irritable with my loved ones. I feel hopeless and helpless and yes, sometimes still suicidal. I feel like I should have a better job at this point in my life, that I’m not a good mother and that I don’t deserve the patience my husband has provided. I cry out of the blue. Sometimes I just want to be done, to be gone. By that I mean that I don’t necessarily want to die, but to just disappear.

When my diagnosis changed from Major Depressive Disorder to Bipolar, I was prescribed mood stabilizers. I don’t know that I have noticed much difference. I have had a few psychiatrists, one for many years and have been on multiple medications. I have heard several times, “well, it looks like you have tried about everything” and “have you looked at Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) as an option”. This is not what a person who is already feeling  hopeless  needs to hear.

To fully understand me, you must also know that I am an alcoholic. I have been in recovery since April 16th of 2009. My drinking and smoking cigarettes began around the age of 18 and the use of many illegal drugs soon followed. It started with wine coolers and throwing up in bed and not being able to move to clean myself up. My parents eventually nailed my bedroom screen window on to prevent me from sneaking out to drink. In college I would wake up on door steps and in apartments where I didn’t know the people and didn’t remember how I got there. In my early adult years, I somehow managed to earn an Undergraduate and Graduate degree in Social Work. However, I continued drinking. Vodka and lots of it. In the beginning I had it every night after work. Never mixed, just shots. I kept one bottle outside and one inside, as well as airplane size bottles in my purse. I would put water in the bottle to make it look like I hadn’t drank as much. When I hit bottom I was drinking ¾ bottle a day. I began between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning, drinking straight from the bottle that I kept in the freezer. I drank until noon and then stopped to “sober up” by 4:30 when I had to work. During the day I stayed home with our young children, ages 1 and 3. When my husband came home, I would go to work, assisting adults with mental illness interestingly enough. I hit rock bottom as many do and it was very, very low. In short, I was given the choice to sober up or lose my husband and children. I chose to sober up. Thanks be to God and supportive family and friends, I am still sober to this day.

What I want those who love a person with mental illness to know, above all…..this is NOT about you. It isn’t your fault and it isn’t your job to “make things ok”. If you had the power to do that, I’m sure you would. But you can’t. This is not your doing and this is not your battle.

That doesn’t mean that you are helpless to watch your loved one suffer. I love hearing “what can I do for you” and “how can I help”. These phrases allow me to say what I think you could try that might help me feel more loved. It’s about support and helping me to feel that even though I’m ill, I’m still me. At the heart of me, I am still the person you fell in love with or have come to enjoy the company of. I don’t mean to be hurtful with my words. I don’t want you to feel responsible to make me happy. Only I have that power.

Intermittently as my illness has allowed, I have been an advocate for persons with mental illness in both a personal and a professional capacity. It remains clear that society still does not have a clear understanding of mental illness. If they did, mental illness would be equivalent to a physical illness in terms of stigma or lack thereof. People fling around words like crazy, say I think she missed her meds, or take a chill pill. At Halloween there are haunted houses where the goal is to escape the “psych ward”. I used to be ashamed of my condition. I used to try to hide it, but it was hard to hold a job without an eventual breakdown. I feel ashamed no longer. This is a part of who I am, only a piece of my whole puzzle. I didn’t create this problem. I was born into it through a combination of family history and brain chemistry. Those who know me and love me will continue to.

My biggest supporter is no longer. She committed suicide four years ago. We were friends for 34 years. She took the easy way out. Often times I wish that I could do the same. I will never place blame on her, but I will never get over her loss, how it occurred and the reason why.

My sister has been a constant my entire life. She has dropped everything to come to me when I have needed her. She is and forever will be my best friend. My parents were always quick to get me professional help when I needed it and have supported me consistently. A friend literally let me lay in her room until I could keep myself safe. A coworker held me when I felt like I was falling apart. My husband has stuck with me through it all. We met as social workers assisting adults with mental illness. He has continued the same work for over 20 years. Perhaps out of not knowing any other way, it is difficult for him to provide me support that differs from the kind that he provides his clients.  I can’t imagine how difficult my illness has been for him to cope with. There are times when I wonder how he can even stand me because often, I can’t even stand myself. I know that my emotional instability is difficult to live with.  He could have left a million times, for a million different reasons, but he didn’t. He’s still here.

When I am unwell, I may reach out and I may not. It depends upon the severity of the symptoms. Often at work, I pretend to be even better than I usually am. I say that I’m fantastic, wonderful, peachy. Fake it until you make it as they say. But that can be what turns out to be helpful. I pretend to be someone that I’m not. Because people like happy people. Let’s face it. They enjoy being with those who laugh and smile.

One of the most unhelpful things I hear is “smile”. Really? Why? So that you can feel better. So that you can go about your merry way without having to worry about me. The other thing I don’t like to hear is “everything happens for a reason”. I don’t believe that to be true. Sometimes things just happen. People die. Children are abducted. Families lose their home. What reason justifies these things? And would having or understanding the reason make the situation any better? I don’t think so. People say what they feel like will placate the situation, so that they can walk away feeling like they have done something.  That’s not to say that there are not people who genuinely care because there are. There are very kind people who have heard me and held me through some of my darkest hours.

I don’t need or want expensive gifts to make me feel better. The things I love the best are notes that I find on my car after work that simply say, “I’m thinking of you”. Or a bag of my favourite chocolate hanging on my doorknob when I get home. It says that I am important enough for you to take the time out of your day to think of me. Cards in the mail are always appreciated. They are a surprise and who doesn’t like a card right?!?  

Please do not try to fix my situation. Do not give me options of what to do when I just want you to hear me. Just listen to me. Sit with me. Don’t tell me what you think will or will not work. When I am in the middle of my pain, I’m not thinking about solutions. I’m thinking about breathing, calming my shaking body….that’s all I can think about. I’m certainly not in the mindset to problem solve.

So really, what it really comes down to is the support of those that we love and trust. It’s knowing that there are a select few who will never leave, not even in my darkest hour. When my mascara runs black down my face, dripping snot on their shoulder, barely able to breathe through the wretching sobs. If I am lucky enough to have even one of those people, I am lucky enough.

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Cake and depression

Our brand new card for depression is all about cake. Well, sort of.

I am a big believer in the power of cake. It celebrates things. It connects people. It makes otherwise dull functions way more exciting. It can do wonders for an individual at 3pm on a Monday afternoon.

Cake could probably fix a mild dose of unhappiness I reckon. The magical combination of sugar and butter. The care and love that has gone into smooth icing. Knowing how frustrating it is to use a piping bag.

But depression is not the same as unhappiness.

When I am in remission from a depressive episode (as I am now), it can be difficult to remember the full weight that depression had on me. Sometimes I wonder whether that weight was really as heavy as I had thought. Maybe it has not so much as melted away as never been there in the first place? Maybe I was just bunging it on? Exaggerating, pretending, and trying to escape my responsibilities at work, in life? It is hard to remember how heavy the burden of depression can feel when all you want to do is forget about it.

But then I might hear the unique story of someone’s own personal experience with the black dog. Or hear of a friend’s loved one cutting them self off from the world. Or hear of a suicide following a drawn out battle with depression

And then I manage to remember bits.

Depression is a much more cavernous feeling than the unhappiness that haphazardly visits me these days. It is a much deeper and more powerful sense of despair which colours how we see the world and interferes with our ability to go on with our life.

For every person who experiences depression, there are different dimensions of biology, psychology and life events and difficulties at play in both precipitating the depressive episode and maintaining it.

From a biological perspective there’s all sort of imaging around that can show us some of the stuff that’s happening in our heads. For people who experience chronic and severe depression, there are changes which can be seen in the structure of the brain. When a person has experienced one episode of severe depression triggered by stressful life events, there appears to be some kind of ‘kindling’ effect in the brain which makes further episodes more likely to occur.

Also there are certain symptoms of depression – low mood, inability to enjoy life, loss of energy, inability to think clearly and feelings of hopelessness – which can, at least to some degree, be reversed with medication. And I’ve found that medication helps me. It takes some of the weight off.

Having said all of that, personally and as a psychologist, it’s impossible for me to believe that the complexities of human thought can be explained by a simple chemical imbalance. The nature and essence of mental illness – the most subjective and personal of human afflictions – couldn’t possibly be distilled to something quite as straightforward as just the replacement of a substance depleted from the brain.

We are all wonderful, complex beasts and often depression is intertwined with other realities of the human condition: our vulnerability, fears, losses and wounds. Our need to be loved, the pain of loneliness, the problems in our past, grief and unresolved guilt.

For me, depression was a profoundly personal experience. It burrowed into me and damaged my sense of self and my reason for self. It caused quite a bit of damage. Probably the reason I try and forget most of it, is that depression is a singularly awful experience. It can sap the life out of you and make each day seem like a lifetime.

Unfortunately cake probably wouldn’t have provided me much of a solution. But I know that there are lots of other more effective options out there. And with time, patience, love, support, hope, commitment and bloody hard work the full weight of depression can be lifted.

You can find our 'Cake for Depression' card right here.

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Please don't tell me your dreams

The other night I caused a small raucous at a very civilised dinner party when I refused to participate further in a conversation that for some of the others around the table they appeared to have fully engaged in. They were discussing green m & m’s and then bodies being decapitated and just before it started to really deteriorate I interrupted and stated I would not be a part of a conversation of this matter any further.

Because a few years ago I decided that I had had enough. I was not going to listen to (healthy) people bang on about what they dreamt about anymore.

Seriously, I find that there really is nothing more boring than listening to people talk about how interesting they find the content of their dreams. I would rather sit and listen to paint dry.

I totally agree that dreams can be absurd and weird. They can go from being terrifying to erotic to bizarre to banal. And sure, it is an interesting question – How on earth do our minds conjure up such ridiculous imagery, such inane thoughts, such spectacularly vivid and surreal landscapes, intense emotions—such narrative trash? But, I can guarantee that we will not answer this question around the dinner table.

Firstly, we all dream. And we probably dream a hell of a lot. But we don’t remember them all (thank the heavens, because then we’d be talking about it even more).

Dreaming occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which accounts for about 20% of our sleep time. During sleep, we dream about every hour and a half (as the brain cycles in and out of REM sleep), and each dream period gets progressively longer. If you happen to remember your dream, chances are it’s simply because you woke up during it. Waking up during a dream is by far the best predictor of you remembering a dream. It’s fresh in your mind. Or it could be that you’re only remembering the last dream that you had. We tend to have most of our REM sleep in the second half of the night.

We will probably also remember our dreams when we’re experiencing other significant emotions as well. We’re more likely to remember our dreams if we are feeling anxious or down, perhaps because we’re waking up more when we’re worried. Maybe in the middle of dream.

And physical health gets in the way as well. Certain medications can supress REM sleep, including some anti-depressant medications, which makes it more difficult to remember dreams. As can sleep apnoea. Whilst there’s other medications, like the smoking cessation medication, Zyban which can cause vivid dreams which are reportedly easily recalled.

Over the last half-century, researchers have identified a few factors that may influence dream recall, from age and gender to specific personality traits. Studies on the biological basis of dreaming have found people with high dream recall show different patterns of neurological activity than their forgetful friends. Other researchers have looked at differences between men and women, younger and older people. In general, we remember our dreams more when we are younger. Probably because we are sleeping much more deeply. And women usually have higher dream recall then men.

And whilst we might claim that our dreams are sooooo surreal and bizarre, chances are they probably aren’t. There are patterns.

Older people report more death themes in their dreams. Male dreams have more sexual and aggressive content than female dreams, which have more themes dealing with home and family. Women report that they dream of their mothers and babies more when they are pregnant. Introverts report more dreams and with greater detail than extroverts. People who experience psychosis, depression and people who have occupations in the creative arts (musicians, painters, and novelists) report more nightmares. People with schizophrenia and severe depression provide shorter dream reports than those of better mental health. It is also reported that people experiencing depression dream of the past more than those who are not experiencing depression.

Environmental factors occurring before and during sleep can shape the content of dreams. What people experience prior to falling asleep can show up in dreams in blatant, subtle, or symbolic forms. People watching movies that evoke strong emotions tend to have highly emotional dreams. In fact, the greater the emotionality of a daily event, the greater the probability that the event will occur in a dream during the subsequent sleep period. Those who are wrestling mentally with a problem often dream about that problem. Some have even reported that the solutions to their problems occurred during the course of dreaming. The German physiologist Otto Loewi's Nobel Prize-winning research with a frog's nerve was inspired by a dream he had. Sometimes events during the day show up in a compensatory form in dreams. Those deprived of food, shelter, friends, or other desirables report an increased likelihood of dreaming about those deprivations at night.

Events occurring during sleep can be integrated into the dream plot as well. External stimuli such as temperature changes, light flashes, and various sounds can be detected by the sleeping person's senses and then become part of the dream. However, research indicates that sensory information is only infrequently assimilated into dreams. Internal stimulation from physiological activities occurring during sleep may have a greater chance of influencing the nature of dreams. Dreams about needing to find a bathroom may be caused in part by a full bladder. Similarly, nighttime activation of the vestibular system (which controls the sense of balance), the premotor cortex (which initiates movements), and the locus coeruleus (which plays a role in inhibiting muscles during sleep so that dreams are not acted out) perhaps can stimulate the production of dreams about falling, chasing, or being unable to move, respectively.

But more interestingly, our dreams are actually not all that unique. From the 1940s to 1985, Calvin S. Hall collected more than 50,000 dream reports at Western Reserve University. In 1966 Hall and Van De Castle published The Content Analysis of Dreams in which they outlined a coding system to study 1,000 dream reports from college students. It was found that people all over the world dream of mostly the same things.

Personal experiences from the last day or week are frequently incorporated into dreams. The most common emotion experienced in dreams is anxiety. Other emotions include pain, abandonment, fear, joy, etc. Negative emotions are much more common than positive ones.

Content-analysis studies have identified common reported themes in dreams. These include: situations relating to school, being chased, running slowly in place, falling, arriving too late, a person now alive being dead, a person who is dead being alive, teeth falling out (this is not uncommon Trudy Booker!), flying, future events such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc. (with different scenarios), embarrassing moments, falling in love with random people, failing an examination, not being able to move, not being able to focus vision, car accidents, being accused of a crime you didn't commit, suddenly finding yourself naked, going to the toilet, and many more.

The thing we really don’t know is why we actually dream. Why does the restorative function of human sleep require dreaming? There are plenty of theories around from Freud’s wish-fulfillment theory to evolutionary theories of external vigilance. But none yet confirmed.

What we do know though, is that what you’re dreaming about is probably not all that unique and unusual. So please, don't tell me about it.

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Thank you. For all the little gifts of love.

Oh compliments. You wonderful little gifts of love.

How did you all find round two our little #complimentbombing experiment? Did you dish out more praise than you might normally? And what were the effects of this? Did you receive some compliment bombs perchance? And what was that like for you?

Chances are it was easier to be the bomber than the bombed. Giving a compliment is usually much easier a thing to do for us than receiving one.

However, if we look at praise-giving as part of the whole big world we call ‘communication’ then it probably falls under some of the same rules. It’s about give and take. For this social engine to run smoothly, we need to be comfortable and confident at both: the giving and the taking.

We don’t often look at accepting praise and compliments as a skill. But I reckon it is. It’s a skill that I for one had to consciously practice and develop.

I used to be excellent at avoiding compliments and praise. A conversation that started with someone observing that they thought I looked nice, could meander into me explaining at length that the entire outfit had been purchased second hand for a small amount of money which thus negated its beauty. I might then launch into a diatribe of my faults and failings regarding my current appearance and provide a fascinating insight into the lack of personal care I allocated to my body. This would end in embarrassing laughter from myself and the Complimenter no doubt backing away in an attempt not to catch a form of lice from my unhygienic body parts.

There’s a number of reasons why it can be hard for us to accept compliments, or these little gifts of love.

Firstly, how receptive we are to compliments can be reflective of our self-esteem and deep feelings of self-worth. Specifically, compliments can make those of us with low self-esteem feel uncomfortable because they contradict our own self-views. People actively seek to verify their own perceptions of themselves, whether those are positive or negative. For example, in one study, college students with low self-esteem showed a stronger preference for keeping their current roommate if that roommate viewed them negatively, than if their roommate saw them more positively.

The resistance people with low self-esteem have to compliments can be especially pronounced when the praise comes from their relationship partners. One study found that giving people with low self-esteem praise about being considerate boyfriends or girlfriends was enough to make them feel more insecure about their partners and even to view their entire relationship more negatively.

Given that the compliment was mild, whether the participants were considerate or not could not have conflicted that strongly with their self-beliefs. Further, their partners know them well and were certainly in a position to comment on their relationship skills. So why would someone with low self-esteem react so strongly to such mild praise from their partner? 

The answer is that any form of praise that comes from their partners, can make people with low self-esteem feel pressured to live up to the heightened expectations such praise implies. Because their confidence and trust in themselves is low, a person with low self-esteem fears they won’t be able to sustain their efforts and they’ll end up disappointing their partner. Further, they worry that their partner’s love and caring are conditional, such that if they do fail to live up to their expectations their partner will withdraw from them or exit the relationship altogether.

Another reason compliments can make us feel a bit icky is because the words we hear don’t line up with the way we see our self. This is what the psychologists amongst us call ‘cognitive dissonance'.

In other words, receiving praise from others when we feel negatively about ourselves elicits discomfort because it conflicts with our existing belief system. If we believe we’re truly undesirable, hearing compliments about how attractive we are will feel jarring and inauthentic. If we believe we’re unintelligent, someone lavishing us with praise about how smart we are will feel more like a taunt than a compliment. And if we’re convinced we’re incapable of success, receiving praise about how capable we are can feel like a set-up for future heartbreak and disappointment.

Studies have also shown that those of us who may have issues with our self-worth tend to prefer to set the bar low. That way if the expectations are met, we get to be pleasantly surprised.

For some of us a compliment can imply that we’re expected to excel and this can increase the pressure. When we feel as if other people hold us in high regard, self-doubt can creep in, causing us to feel anxious in regard to disappointing someone.

Whilst all of this is totes interesting, the correlation between low self-esteem and a resistance to compliments should not be over-interpreted. People with low self-esteem are often uncomfortable receiving compliments but not everyone who is uncomfortable receiving compliments necessarily has low self-esteem. Praise has a large cultural and ideological component. For example, it is much more acceptable to praise children in some cultures than in others and it is much more acceptable to express positive regard to adults in some cultures than in others. Further, some people with high self-esteem might have ideologies or world views that associate compliments with ‘coddling’ such that they experience praise as condescension rather than encouragement. 

Difficulty in accepting compliments and praise is not always about confidence and esteem. It could just as easily be a lack of practice. If you were raised in an environment where compliments were rare, then you don’t gain the experience of accepting them. Therefore you just need to catch up on lost time and practice more now.

One thing I did to help overcome my ungracious acceptance of praise, was I stopped considering it as a compliment. But instead I tried to reframe it as a gift. Because that’s what I reckon compliments are. Little social gifts.  With other gifts, I tend not to snatch them away from the giver, chuck it in the bin and say ‘Well that’s a load of old rubbish’. By treating compliments and praise as little gifts of love, my general reception of them started to change.  

At its core our self-esteem is a pretty subjective evaluation. And probably not the best thing to try and run all our social communication and etiquettes through. We don’t have to believe the compliment, but we can still accept it graciously. In a socially appropriate manner. Just by acknowledging positive feedback we may even begin to entertain the possibility that maybe there is something positive to comment on. It may even begin to change our perception of our self.

So, thank all of you who got involved in giving compliments for World Compliment Day. And we praise all of you who were able to receive the compliments. With a smile. And a thank you. That’s just awesome!

Don't forget our new range of 'Friend Flatterers' are available right here.

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Calling all #complimentbombers!

Hope Street Cards Friends!

Its #complimentbombing time of year again – hooray! And we’re looking for volunteers who want to get involved.

Tuesday 1st March 2017 is World Compliment Day. This day addresses the basic human need for recognition and appreciation. Nobody wins commercially, but everybody gains emotionally. And therein lies the power. After many successful editions of ‘National Compliment Day’ in the Netherlands the initiators wondered why the event should not become a ‘World Compliment Day’ and thus created ‘The Most Positive Day in the World’.

March 1st is just about consciously reflecting on what someone in your area does well and letting that person know he/she is sincerely appreciated for that. It should be done through words instead of gifts. "A sincere and personal compliment costs nothing, but the impact on the recipient is huge," says Hans Poortvliet, recognition professional and the driving force behind the annual event in the Netherlands. "Nothing stimulates more, gives more energy, makes people happier and, as far as business is concerned, increases productivity and commitment faster than sincere appreciation. So why not use it a little bit more?"

"The deepest principle of human nature is the imperative need to be appreciated."  - William James (American philosopher and psychologist 1842 - 1910)

In 2016, Hope Street Cards and our team of wonderful volunteers distributed compliment cards up and down the east coast of Australia (For images of the experiment check out our Facebook album ‘#complimentbombing’ or search #complimentbombing on Instagram).you can check it out by searching #complimentbombing). From Brisbane to Melbourne, from Byron Bay to Canberra, little cards of complimentary love were waiting to be found in the most extraordinary of places. They were waiting appreciated by others on public transport seats, in paid parking machines and in coat pockets at Op shops.

“I can live for two months on a good compliment” – Mark Twain.

And the little experiment was so much fun, we’ve decided to give it a go again this year! But we’d love it to be even bigger and even better so we’re putting the call out for even more volunteers.

If you’d like to get involved and receive a pack of compliment cards to distribute in the lead up to World Compliment Day, all you have to do is get in touch and we will endeavour to ship them out to you. DM or email us (hopestreetcards@gmail.com.au) your address and we’ll pop your compliments in the mail.

Here’s to #complimentbombing and World Compliment Day. A small attempt to provide the giver, the receiver and all the onlookers a little, but possibly a very powerful gift of love.

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Understanding love

Happy (belated) Love Day my friends!

Phew! I am exhausted. After a full month of blogging all things relationships, I’m a little drained. And a little confused. And I don’t know if I’m all that much wiser on this thing called love. Are you?

We looked at intimate couple love and fighting and breaking up and being single. And we explored love as requiring components of acceptance and compassion and communication and reality.

But it very much feels like there are some glaringly obvious holes. And I’d like to acknowledge (some of) these. As a single, white, childless, heterosexual woman who has never been married (or divorced), my personal experiences are somewhat limited when it comes to relationships. So my inspiration for the content may have been a little vanilla, or lacking in diversity. Despite this, I believe that everyone deserves to be able to love and be loved. In the respectful relationship of their choosing.

As an example, I never mentioned LGBTIQ relationships. So I’ll quickly mention one thought I have on these relationships now. According to law in Australia marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. I think this law is ridiculous. This being said, I believe that the choice to marry should be available to all of us regardless of the sex of our partner. I believe all members of the LGBTIQ community should have the same opportunities to celebrate their relationship and be afforded the same respect, love and recognition from their community as that of their heterosexual counterparts. And I look forward to a time that the law reflects these beliefs that we are all a bit more equal in a more socially just society.

I also didn’t discuss the complexity of domestic and family violence. Because it’s so hard and complex and tragic. And it would have taken me months and months.

So, instead we barely scratched the surface of love and relationships over the past month. And it’s all pretty confusing, but I recently came upon this beautiful definition that might just help us a bit more.

“love is understanding”

For the more religious of us out there, this definition comes from a medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas who was trying to define what Jesus was getting at, when rather than be shocked by particular people around him, he continually embraced them (E.g., apparently in Matthew, chapter 8 Jesus is approached by a man with leprosy. He’s in a disgusting state. But Jesus isn’t shocked, reaches out his hand and touches the man. Despite the horrendous appearance, here is someone (in Jesus’s eyes) entirely deserving of closeness and kindness. In a similar vein, at other times, Jesus conspicuously argues that tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves and adulterers are never to be thought of as outside the circle of love).

In this way of talking about love: if we truly understand love, we could possibly love anyone. In other words: love isn’t specific in its target. It is open to everyone. All of humanity, even (and in a way especially) its less appealing examples.

And we do this often. Express our love as understanding. For some of us, we commonly do this with our extended families. If I had a dollar for every person who upon disclosure of me being a psychologist replied “Oh, you should come work with my family”, I would not be renting anymore. And it is the same in my own family. We’re all highly functioning and get along very well. But things are a little bit weird round the edges. But it’s only because we really, really know the intricacies of our families and what’s gone before for decades and decades that help us to understand. But despite all of this, we still love. We understand and we love.

Working in a therapeutic role assists greatly with this level of understanding. As therapists we get to ask heaps of questions and listen. And as you hear the stories of a human developing, whether it be through a story of childhood trauma or an unexpected incident, we can begin to understand why a person might be behaving in a particular way. A person is not a ‘sex offender’ or a ‘drug user’, but another human with needs and imperfections.

We’re all flawed. It’s part of the human condition. But we’re social creatures and I reckon that means that part of our job as humans is to love. Not the romantic head over heels love with one person only. The effortful love. The love that takes work to see beyond the outwardly unappealing surface of another human – in search of the tender, interesting, scared and vulnerable person inside. Our minds tend fiercely to resist such a move. For instance: if someone has hurt us we naturally want to see them as horrible. The thought they might themselves be hurting themselves feels very weird. If unpleasant events happen in someone’s life – if they keep on losing their job or acquire a habit of drinking too much– we’re tempted to hold them responsible for everything that happens to them. It takes a deliberate effort to move the mind to understanding. But the more energy we put into looking at love through understanding, the more we might be able to love more people than we initially thought.

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Being our own BFF

Let's do a very quick experiment. Grab a pen and some paper. Go on, this will be good fun!

Firstly, quick as you can, without too much conscious thought, list all of your most favourite things about your bestest friend.

Easy? Got a massive list of amazing qualities? Excellent!

Now, with that pen and paper, list your most favourite things about yourself. Quickly. Off you go.

How was that? A little bit harder? Was your list a little bit more difficult to cultivate than that of your besties? A bit slower to get off the ground? Maybe your BFF’s qualities look a little longer than your own when written down on paper by you?

It’s interesting isn’t it? In general, we are way nicer to our friends than we are to our self. We humans can be much, much better at being able to love the people around us than we are at loving ourselves. To improve our relationship with our self it might be worthwhile to consider the practice of ‘self-compassion’.

At its core self-compassion is about treating ourselves kindly. Extending towards our self the same kindness and sympathy that we might extend to a good friend.

Over the past decade self-compassion has gained popularity as a related and complementary construct to mindfulness, and research on self-compassion is growing at an exponential rate. Dr Kristen Neff a pioneer in the self-compassion field has explained:

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

In essence, compassion for our self is similar to the compassion we feel for our loved ones. When we feel compassion for others, we feel kindness toward them, empathy, and a desire to help reduce their suffering. It’s the same when we are compassionate toward our self. Self-compassion creates a caring space within us that is free of judgment—a place that sees our hurt and failures and softens to allow those experiences with kindness and caring.

To explain it a bit more, it might help to outline what self-compassion isn’t.

Self-Compassion is not self-pity.

When we humans feel self-pity, we can become totally immersed in our own problems and forget that others have similar problems.  We can ignore interconnections with others, and instead feel that we are the only ones in the world who are suffering. Self-pity tends to emphasize egocentric feelings of separation from others and exaggerate the extent of personal suffering. Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows us to see the related experiences of self and other without these feelings of isolation and disconnection.

Self-Compassion is not self-indulgence.

Self-compassion is also very different from self-indulgence. This took me a while to understand and some other (struggling) perfectionists may also have difficulty with this one. I was initially reluctant to be self-compassionate because I was afraid that without my inner self-criticism I would let myself get away with just about anything and everything would fall to shit. This, however, is self-indulgence rather than self-compassion.  Being compassionate to oneself means that we want to be happy and healthy in the long term. In many cases, just giving oneself pleasure may harm well-being (such as taking drugs, over-eating, being a couch potato), while giving yourself health and lasting happiness often involves a certain amount of displeasure (such as quitting smoking, dieting, exercising).  We are often very hard on ourselves when we notice something we want to change because we think we can shame themselves into action – the self-flagellation approach.  However, this approach often backfires if we can’t face difficult truths about our self because we are so afraid of hating our self if we do.  Thus, weaknesses may remain unacknowledged in an unconscious attempt to avoid self-censure. In contrast, the care intrinsic to compassion provides a powerful motivating force for growth and change, while also providing the safety needed to see the self clearly without fear of self-condemnation.

Self-Compassion is not self-esteem.

This is a really important one. Although self-compassion may seem similar to self-esteem, they are different in many ways.  Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, perceived value, or how much we like ourselves. While there is little doubt that low self-esteem is problematic and often leads to depression and lack of motivation, trying to have higher self-esteem can also be problematic.  In modern Western culture, self-esteem is often based on how much we are different from others, how much we stand out or are special. Accordingly, it is not okay to be average, we have to feel above average to feel good about ourselves. Unfortunately this can mean that some attempts to raise self-esteem may result in narcissistic, self-absorbed behavior, or lead us to put others down in order to feel better about ourselves. We might get angry and aggressive towards those who have said or done anything that potentially makes us feel bad about ourselves. The need for high self-esteem may encourage us to ignore, distort or hide personal shortcomings so that we can’t see ourselves clearly and accurately. Finally, our self-esteem is often contingent on our latest success or failure, meaning that our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances.

In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden. Moreover, self-compassion isn’t dependent on external circumstances, it’s always available – especially when you fall flat on your face! 

But the two do go together. If you’re self-compassionate, you’ll tend to have higher self-esteem than if you’re endlessly self-critical. And like high self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression, as well as more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions. However, self-compassion offers clear advantages over self-esteem when things go wrong, or when our egos are threatened. Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.

The bottom line is that according to the science, self-compassion does in fact appear to offer the same advantages as high self-esteem, but with less discernible downsides.

So, how do we focus on cultivating a compassionate and kind relationship with our self? Well according to Dr Neff, self-compassion entails three components and in order to be truly self-compassionate we combine each of the three essential elements.

1. Self-kindness

Self-kindness is being gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critically and judgmental. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognise that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.

The best way to think about being kind to yourself is to think about a friend. Go ahead. Do it now. Visualise your best friend. Again. Now imagine they come to you and say they are hurting because they were passed over for that promotion at work that they’ve wanted for so long. Would you say to them, “Well, it’s probably because you didn’t work hard enough. And you’re too weak. You should have spoken up about wanting a promotion a long time ago.” What? You wouldn’t say that to a friend? Would you say it to yourself? It’s more likely that you would hug your friend and say, “Oh no! That’s terrible. I know how long you’ve been hoping to get that promotion. Come on, let’s go get some coffee and talk about it?” You can be kind to yourself in this way, too. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend who is suffering. Just as you would hug your friend, soothe yourself as well. Put your hands over your heart or locate the spot in your body where your hurt is hiding and gently place both hands there. Speak kindly to yourself. Call yourself by an endearing name. “Oh, honey. I’m hurting because I wanted that promotion so badly. This is a really hard place to be in right now.”

2. Common humanity

This is my favourite bit. Self-compassion requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering.

Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  But we all suffer. All the humans suffer. Turns out the very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. And yes, that’s shit, but with self-compassion we recognise that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

Many times when we criticise or judge our self, we can feel very, very isolated. It can seem as if we’re the only person in the entire universe with this problem or flaw. And yet, we are all imperfect. We all suffer. And so we are all connected by our shared humanity.

One of the wonderful outcomes of self-compassion is our enhanced sense of belonging, the feeling that we are all in this together.

The next time you are looking in the mirror and not liking what you see, remember that you are an integral part of a flawed, wonderful, wounded, miraculous human tribe.

3. Be mindful

Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it.

Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.  At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

How will you know that you are suffering if you are repressing your pain, rationalizing it, or busy with problem-solving?

We can allow awareness of our pain to enter in. Being mindful is about noticing what is happening in the moment and having no judgment about it. Notice our hurt and just be with it, compassionately and with kindness. And note that trying to make pain go away with self-compassion is just another way to repress pain and hurt. Self-compassion is about being with your suffering in a kind, loving way, not about making suffering disappear.

Taken together, the research suggests that self-compassion provides an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment, so that we can finally stop asking, “Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?” By tapping into our inner wellsprings of kindness, acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, we can start to feel more secure, accepted, and alive. – Kristen Neff

It does take work to break the self-criticising habits of a lifetime, but at the end of the day self-compassion is just asking us to be friendlier to our self. Asking us to relax, allow things to be and love our self with a little more kindness.  

For more good stuff on self-compassion, check out the website of one of the lovely ladies I completed my psych training with here. Dr Brooke is a self-compassion guru and she's got an awesome #bemyownbestie Insta campaign going to keep your practice on track!

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In sickness and in (mental) health

Over the previous 8 blog posts, it’s been pretty clearly established that relationships are not the easiest of things to manage. They generate a bit of work for us. But overall, having people in our lives is pretty worthwhile. (I cannot believe I’ve just summarised all those words into 3 piddly sentences).

In a very similar vein, when we love someone who is experiencing a mental illness it can be bloody hard work. Bloody hard. But probably worth it in the end.

I’m a bit loathe to write this post because there are plenty of articles floating around titled “how to love someone with a mental illness” or even “why you should love someone with a mental illness.” And it makes me cringe up a bit. For a number of reasons:

  • It perpetuates the “us versus them” mentality. People who experience a mental illness may have specific medical and psychological symptoms they have to deal with, but that doesn’t mean they’re something other than human. Would you love some with diabetes differently? Or need advice on how to love someone with athlete’s foot?
  • Doesn’t’ everyone have their own shit to deal with? Experiencing the symptoms of a mental illness may require certain lifestyle adjustments and more care at specific instances, but so do other things in life. Like when we take on way too much stuff at work. Or when the kids are really sick. Or when we change jobs. Lose our job. Are struggling financially. Lose someone in the family etc etc. Dare I say we all need specific care at certain instances in our lives, mental illness or not.
  • Even if there are unique ways in which people who have mental illnesses need love and care, that’s largely on an individual basis. We all have specific needs at certain times in our lives. These needs have to be communicated with the people around us — our friends, family, significant other, colleagues, etc. Because articles with “tips” about how to care about someone who has a mental illness may not be what every individual person needs nor wants. The person with the mental illness is responsible for knowing what they need to stay well and being able to communicate that.
  • Stigma is usually why these kinds of articles exist. I wouldn’t have to write about this if social stigma didn’t exist because then we would realise that we don’t need to try to love someone who is perceived as different in one way or another. We would simply love people because we are humans and we should care about each other's welfare.

Having noted all of that though, sometimes when we love someone who is experiencing active symptoms of a mental illness there’s particular things that are a real struggle for us. We might be worried we are not saying the “right” thing. We could be constantly concerned for their safety. We can be frustrated that they’re not improving. Or that they’re not seeking treatment. Or that they can’t see that there are any problems with their health at all.

All of these struggles though come from a place of love. If we didn’t feel these things about the person close to us, then we wouldn’t feel so strongly about them. And here’s a really, really, really important thing when someone is experiencing a mental illness, love is really, really, really important.

In the book A General Theory of Love (2001), a trio of psychiatry professors, Lewis, Amini and Lannon, describe love as an interaction of neurotransmitters and hormones in our body:

“Our nervous systems are not separate or self-contained; beginning in earliest childhood, the areas of our brain identified as the limbic system (hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, and limbic cortex) is affected by those closest to us (limbic resonance) and synchronizes with them (limbic regulation) in a way that has profound implications for personality and lifelong emotional health.”

Interestingly, we can actually see evidence of these connections when we explore research in this area related to stress management, depression, anxiety.

The ability to adequately cope with stress, is one of the protective factors against mental illness. British psychiatrist John Bowlby, known for his seminal work in the area of developmental science, defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” In Attachment (1969), Bowlby showed us the crucial importance of the secure relationship on the development of adaptiveness and coping capacity. And throughout our lifetime, this remains true.

‘Allostatic load’, a psychological term coined in the 1980s, represents the physiological consequences of chronic exposure to stress. Positive social experiences and higher levels of social integration and support are associated with lower allostatic load in both young and older cohorts. From childhood until old age, being connected to others in secure and loving relationships helps us better deal with stress.

Currently depression and anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric conditions that are experienced in the Western world. And social isolation is clearly linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. According to a Health and Human Services report, getting married and staying married reduces depression in both men and women. And research in the areas of physical health has shown that high levels of social support may actually improve prognosis in such conditions as cancer and myocardial infarctions by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression that can often be associated with these illnesses.

And when people seek treatment for depression it will often focus on interpersonal relationships as a way to improve depression as is the case in attachment therapy in children and interpersonal therapy in adults. In addition, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), which focuses on transforming relationships into ones that feels safe, secure and connected, have also been found to be effective in significantly reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Ultimately, encouraging our people with a mental illness to be involved in loving and stable supportive relationships can potentially help in their recovery.

Though there are times when people need to “take a step back” from someone experiencing active symptoms of their illness, this generalises to any situation where one simply needs to create boundaries with another person in order to maintain one’s wellness.

Mahatma Ghandi once wrote, “Where there is love there is life.” Loving and stable relationships can help to improve a person's ability to manage stress and can help to decrease anxiety and depression. We are all social creatures, whether we experience mental illness or not.

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