A few years’ ago, God did me a very big favor. Every time I was around someone with a very complicated inner landscape, my eyes would go funny.
The first few times it happened, I freaked out and started panicking that I’d developed some horrible disease that was going to leave my partially sighted, God-forbid, or worse. But then, after this had been going on for a few months, and after I’d been talking to God about it a lot, I suddenly got the insight that my eyes would only go funny around particular people, or in particular circumstances.
One of those people was my husband, so figuring out what was going on become a big imperative.
After many more months of pondering it, praying on it, thinking about it, I managed to narrow down ‘funny eye syndrome’ a bit more, and to realize that it would happen whenever I was around people who were suppressing strong, negative emotions.
By suppressing, I don’t mean that they knew what they were feeling, consciously, and were gritting their teeth, or keeping a stiff upper lip, although clearly that also would sometimes occur.
I mean that these negative emotions were so buried, so hidden - even from the person themselves! - that they had absolutely no idea what sort of tremendously powerful emotional vibes they were actually sending out into the atmosphere.
That was being soaked up by yours truly and making my eyes go funny.
Releasing the pressure
Over time, I figured out that the single best way to cure my funny eyes was by helping the person I was talking with to really acknowledge their deeper, nearly always extremely negative, true feelings.
This is so much easier said than done, as most people who make my eyes go funny are suffering from something called alexithymia, or an inability to really describe or get a handle on their feelings. This usually happens because a kid isn’t really ‘seen’ in their childhood by an emotionally-absent parent.
So when they get upset, or scared, or anxious, or concerned, there is no caring adult around to notice what’s going on with them, and to give them the word, the label, they need to shrink their huge feeling down into language, and make it manageable.
So then, these individuals grow up, and a fuzzy sense of frustration (that they would never think to label ‘anger’) is really the only feeling that can or will admit to experiencing.
But if you could rip the scab off that ‘frustration’, then a whole bunch of seething, immature, enormous negative emotions would come bubbling out. If that sounds like a scary prospect, you are now starting to understand why so many people who find it hard to relate to their negative emotions are so scared of anyone getting anywhere near close enough to prise off the ‘frustration’ lid.
Because a volcano is lurking underneath.
Sadly for me, or luckily for me, depending on how you look at it, pretending that nothing was really happening underneath got very, very hard when my eyes would suddenly go completely weird mid-conversation.
Someone would be telling me what they had for breakfast, or about their upcoming trip to the US to visit family, or about their kid’s new school, or they’re new job - and whammo, my eyes would de-focus and I’d be left squinting around, completely perplexed as to what was going on and thinking big thoughts about serious vitamin deficiencies.
Until I figured this out.
Which is when I realized that God had actually given me a secret back route into instantly figuring where the emotional body was buried, so to speak. Because a person can swear until they’re blue in the face that they’ve made their peace with so-and-so, or don’t care about such-and-such, or completely past whatever it is - but if my eyes have gone funny, I know they are lying.
Especially to themselves.
This is useful with husbands, but not so useful with everyone else
Now, with husbands this is actually a pretty wonderful, helpful thing, as thanks to the funny eyes, we’ve got to the bottom of so many issues that we probably never would have, otherwise.
But with other people? Well, it’s made things pretty complicated. And it’s a big part of the reason I got so anti-social for a while, because for the life of me I couldn’t work out how I was meant to be reacting when someone would be telling me about their wonderful family celebration, or how much they really wanted to just settle down with someone (when the exact opposite was true) while my ‘funny eyes’ would erupt off the Richter scale.
If a person isn’t telling themselves the truth about a particular situation, woe betide the person who is dumb enough to try to step in and deliver the message the other person is trying so hard to ignore and avoid.
I learnt the hard way that you can’t fix people with ‘the truth’, and if you try, you are only going to get your head completely blown off. And you probably deserve it.
So, for a long stretch of time it’s been easier to keep things superficial with most people for most of the time, because in 2018, so many people are dealing with huge negative emotions that they’re repressing, without even realizing what’s going on.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because I have the feeling that the more you start to get in touch with your own real self, and the more you try to work through your own enormous, deeply-buried negative feelings, the more you’ll also start to notice how certain people, certain conversations, set you off, too.
Maybe, your eyes won’t go funny, but you might find your breathing goes a bit weird, or that your heart starts beating too fast, or you suddenly feel horribly hot and suffocated, or weak and faint, or your hands suddenly go ice-cold.
Pay attention to those clues that God is sending you, especially if they’re popping up around a spouse or a kid.
Because those people, you probably can help, if you take a deep breath and prepare yourself mentally to face down an internal volcano of huge, suppressed feelings.
But everyone else, you probably can’t.
So the best bet is then just to smile and nod politely, and quickly change the subject.
One of the things that I’ve often been asked - and sometimes also criticized about - is why I write so openly on my websites about my own personal struggles.
There have been many answers to this question over the years, but the one I currently like the most is described very nicely in Pete Walker’s excellent book: C-PTSD: from surviving to thriving. There, Pete writes the following:
“A central aspect of the truly helpful relational work was what John Bradshaw calls ‘healing the shame that binds’. I believe toxic shame cannot be healed without some relational help. Several therapists and groups aided me greatly to unbind from the shame that made me hide whenever I couldn’t invoke my perfect persona.
“Concurrently, I learned that real intimacy correlated with the amount I shared my vulnerabilities. As I increasingly practiced emotional authenticity, the glacier of my lifelong loneliness began to melt.”
As Pete Walker encapsulates so nicely, when you’re walking around trying to pretend that you’re ‘perfect’, or always 100% put-together, or always have the answers, or the faith that you’re meant to have, you end up feeling so very lonely on the inside.
Because you aren’t being REAL.
Even if you’re surrounded by millions of friends, and have a fulfilling career, and a big family etc etc, if you can’t be REAL (at least for a lot of the time) - then you will feel like the loneliest person on the planet.
Traumatized people often find it very difficult to let their guards down and be REAL, because they’ve usually experienced so much mockery, criticism, and lack of acceptance. When you grow up in a traumatizing environment, it’s safer to hide your flaws and struggles behind a big wall of aggressive perfectionism than to risk being made to feel awful because you aren’t always perfect, all the time.
Like it or not, Western society promotes and glorifies shaming other people in the cruelest of ways. I think mocking other people has taken the place of the gladiator sports that were so popular in ancient Rome, except now we cut people’s heads off with blog comments, ‘jokes’ and Facebook posts instead of swords and spears.
It’s understandable that so many people dive for cover in the face of this very unhealthy mode of interacting with others. It’s very, very hard to maintain ‘real’ around cruel, superficial, hyper-critical people.
(If you’re wondering how I deal with that myself, the short answer is that I try to avoid these people as much as possible, because otherwise they drive me completely bonkers and push me back into ‘feeling ashamed’ flashbacks within a nanosecond.)
But not everyone is like that. I’m learning the more I go along that there are some amazing people out there, who value and cherish real interactions. I think there are probably a lot more of us than is sometimes obvious, because as I mentioned, a lot of us hide our ‘real’ self away to avoid being attacked and mocked by the psychos.
And that’s one very big reason why I try to write ‘real’, as much as possible, because the more real I can be, the more those other people will also start to feel safe to express their own brand of ‘real’ in the world.
Yes, it would definitely be easier to write from a place of having a ‘perfect persona’ a lot of the time. I’d probably ‘fit’ into more people’s boxes a little easier, and stop pressing buttons in very repressed individuals who find honesty dangerous. I also wouldn’t open myself up to people thinking ‘less’ of me because I’m not perfect after all.
But you know what? The path of pretend perfection kills the soul. So I could end up looking like I was doing better from the outside (maybe…) but I guarantee I’d be feeling a whole lot worse. And a whole lot lonelier. A whole lot more like I didn’t really ‘fit’ anywhere in the world.
Being real is risky sometimes. Being real can sometimes alienate people who aren’t ‘real’ themselves, and who find it far too overwhelming to deal with. Being real means there’s no-where to hide when your flaws and negative character traits come roaring out at you.
But being real is also the way to truly forge deep connections to other people, and to God, and to ourselves. And if that’s the only benefit you get from being real (and I don’t think it is), it’s more than worth it.
Gosh, where to start?
There’s all the personal attacks, the way they complete ignore any facts or information that goes against what they believe, the double-standards they employ, the red herrings they like to throw in, the ‘guilt by association’ tactics they pull, quoting you as saying something ridiculous you never even said, claiming to have insider knowledge or some big secret information that CHANGES THE WHOLE PICTURE but that they couldn’t possibly share with you, flat-out telling lies, questioning your level of intelligence or ethics etc
Let’s go through each one in turn, and I’ll give you some template examples (because believe me, they really just fill in the blanks, whatever the actual topic of the discussion you’re attempting to have.)
First, let’s just remind ourselves of the definition of emotional abuse:
Emotional abuse happens when someone uses words or actions to control, frighten or isolate someone, or to take away their self-respect.
1) They resort to personal attacks instead of bringing you facts, sources, evidence or additional information to back up their opinions.
Things they say:
2) They ignore any facts or information that doesn’t ‘fit’ their opinion
This can be extremely galling, because by completely ignoring all the additional pieces of information or facts that really shape the debate, and support whatever point you’re trying to make, they’re effectively closing down the whole discussion.
This is usually then compounded by them criticizing you for failing to do ‘enough research’, or for having ‘flawed scientific studies’.
When they can’t conveniently ignore the research and facts, they will then usually resort back to step 1, above and rubbish your evidence and (also you yourself, just for good measure) in a most unpleasant fashion.
Things they say:
This can take a bit of practice to spot, but they are usually accusing you of doing exactly what they themselves are doing. So for example, they’ll accuse you of making ‘blanket statements that aren’t supported by any evidence’ when that is exactly what they themselves are doing.
For example: EVERYONE they ever met agrees with their point of view.
Or, they'll tell you that you're being narrow-minded, judgmental and intolerant when that’s what they are.
They’ll come after you for being ‘unscientific’, or ‘passing-off opinion as fact’, or for not having enough research, or the right research WHILE ALL THE TIME FAILING TO PROVIDE ANY FACTS OR EVIDENCE OF THEIR OWN.
If pressed to give specific, external details to support their own opinions, they usually go ballistic and revert back to step, 1 above - rubbishing you and your evidence.
A particularly favorite double-standard that’s often employed by emotionally-abusive people is where they’ll make a big show of questioning your professionalism, knowledge, ability to think straight, ‘expertise’ etc - when they themselves often lack any sort of professionalism, knowledge or ability to think (that last one, especially.)
Things they say:
This is when the emotionally-abusive person can see that they’re not doing very well getting their ‘mud’ to stick to you, so then they start going off on tangents that have nothing to do with the actual discussion.
Things they say:
This is where the emotionally-abusive person starts comparing you to the dregs of humanity, and finding all sorts of ‘similarities’ between you and genocidal maniacs like the Son of Sam, or suicide bombers etc.
Things they say:
Emotionally-abusive people are no strangers to telling whopping lies about things, including putting words in your mouth, and denying the things that they themselves have said.
Things they say:
7) Claiming to have secret insider information, knowledge or expertise that changes the whole picture (and makes you WRONG!!!)
This can be so infuriating, because on the one hand they’re flat-out ignoring or rubbishing your evidence and facts, while claiming to have some sort of ‘secret’ superior understanding or information that they couldn’t possibly share with a moron like you…
You can’t argue with ‘secret information’ - which is why it’s secret. If it was real, or convincing, they’d give it to you.
Things they say:
8) Telling lies
Emotionally-abusive people will tell lies about just about everything, but they’ll especially lie about how BAD / judgmental / unqualified / dangerous / nasty / wrong you are, and how above reproach, well-informed, open-minded, qualified to have an opinion, reasonable and objective they are.
9) Sandwiching (aka, switch n’ bait)
This is where emotionally-abusive people sandwich their jaw-droppingly horrible insults and abusive comments in between more reasonable statements, which can be very confusing when you don’t know what you’re dealing with, as you try to persuade yourself that the nasty stuff must be some sort of mistake or oversight, when it isn’t at all.
Things they say:
Emotional abuse is rife. Most of us are probably experiencing some serious form of emotional abuse every single day (especially if we’re doing things online.) Emotional abuse causes all sorts of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties to the people who are subjected to it, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks and profound feelings of self-hatred, guilt and worthlessness.
If we really want the world to change for the better, and to start tackling the causes of mental illness at its root, then it’s time we looked this problem straight in the face, and uprooted it from our lives, relationships and communities.
Recently, I’ve been pondering the mechanism that’s going on in a person’s brain and / or soul that prevents them from assimilating new information when it’s presented to them, and changing course as a result.
There’s been many prompts for my ponderings, vis:
All of us have come up against these types of people or issues over time, and probably all of us have been left scratching our heads as to what exactly is going on, because on some level we can see that the failure to integrate and to respond to information is clearly a sign of mental ill-health.
Is it cognitive impairment, or something more sinister?
Two options present themselves: Either, there really is some sort of cognitive impairment going on (more on this in a moment); or, the people involved are morally corrupt and deliberately going out there to hurt and mislead other people by ‘playing dumb’.
The more I’ve researched this issue, the more I’m starting to believe that the issue really is one of cognitive impairment, aka brain damage.
Here’s why: I did this infographic (at the top of the page) a little while back to show how important our frontal lobes are, when it comes to things like exercising free choice, assimilating new information, and overcoming our primitive, knee-jerk reactions to act like a mensch.
When the frontal lobes are ‘off-line’, the ability to choose how to react, to weigh out our options, to see other people’s points of view, to empathise, and to respond to new information and stimulus and really internalize it is very impaired, or even non-existent.
This type of ‘brain damage’ is caused by trauma, especially the type of trauma that results from emotional neglect and abuse in childhood, plus other more obviously traumatic experiences like being bulled, being seriously ill, losing a parent via divorce or bereavement, or experiencing a bad car crash, physical assault or terrorist attack.
Trauma takes out the ability to believe, act and think differently
To put this another way: Most people today are traumatized, and the effects of being traumatized are to amplify the influence or emotional and primitive parts of the brain, and to shut down the part of the brain that enables people to process new information, consider their actions, behavior and beliefs in a rational way, and to choose to act, think or believe different, as a result.
Here’s the good news: the brain is ‘plastic’, and new research is building up by the day to prove that the function of the brain is shaped by our experiences, and that our brains continue to grow and evolve and change until we take our last breath.
Traumatised brains can be ‘un-traumatised’, and when that occurs people regain their humanity, their ability to change and to aspire, and their connection to their souls, their higher selves, and to God.
(God willing, I’m currently pulling together a whole bunch of information on the best, easiest and most effective ways of ‘un-traumatising’, and I’ll post it up when it’s ready.)
But until and unless that happens - you’re dealing with brain-damaged individuals who really can’t process the new information or facts that potentially change the whole picture.
They really AREN’T doing it just be stubborn, obnoxious, hurtful, destructive and 'evil', although of course we often still experience their behavior like that, and we have to take any steps required to protect ourselves from the fall-out.
They're doing it because they currently can't access the ability to choose differently. But one day, and I really do believe it will be one day soon, that will change.
When you're doing a 'deeper' mind-map, like the Big Interview example I gave yesterday, the conclusions you can draw from these types of mind-maps tend to split into 2 categories:
1) Practical and functional
2) Insightful and transformative
For example, if you're super-worried about turning up late to your big meeting, then there are certainly practical, functional conclusions you can draw about the need to leave in plenty of time; or taking the bus instead of driving, so you don't need to waste time finding a parking spot etc.
These types of conclusions deal with the superficial concern on the day, but don't address the underlying emotional issue.
An insightful and transformative conclusion is something that doesn’t just tackle the symptom of the problem, but gets to work on the core.
Examples of a transformative type of conclusion for the Big Interview Mind Map could include:
The final step of every mind map you do: Set yourself goals / action points
Again, this last step can be split into practical, functional action points that deal with tangible issues and problems; and / or more long-term goals or action points, that start to address the underlying emotions.
To continue with our 'scared to be late' example, the practical action points could include:
If you don't manage to achieve all of your action points or goals, don't get discouraged. Go and talk to God about what's really going on, do another mind-map, talk things over with a close friend that you trust, and you'll see that one way or another, things will start to move again.
RECAP: The basic rules of successful mind-mapping
The following rules apply to every mind-map you do, regardless of whether it's simple, complicated, deep, practical, emotional, or whatever.
Rule 1: Get G-d involved in the process
Rule 2: Be honest
Rule 3: Don't censor yourself
Rule 4: You can't do this wrong
Rule 5: No 2 mind-maps are the same
Rule 6: Judge yourself favorably
Rule 7: Keep an open mind
Rule 8: Translate your mind-map into real time
Rule 9: Pray on it
Rule 10: Write spontaneously
What are mind-maps?
I've been doing mind-maps for more than 15 years, and I've done hundreds of them, both for myself, and also as a mind-map facilitator for other people. I first found out about mind-maps when a business consultant friend of mine told me about how useful they could be for organising the new PR business I was trying to set up at the time.
That first mind-map blew me away. It took all the stuff that was blocking up my head, and got it out of my brain, and down onto paper, in a way that made it so much easier for me to figure out what needed to happen, how, when, and why.
(This sort of organisational mindmap is invaluable for when you have a big project to do, and you need to set down clear processes, goals and priorities.)
So over the next few days, I'm going to teach you how to do your own mind maps, here on the JEMI website. But mind maps are NOT just about getting organised. You can also use them for some very profound emotional work, too.
Deeper applications for mind-maps
The beauty of mind-maps is that you can apply the same basic mind-mapping tools to almost every area of your life - even very deep emotional stuff. Mind-maps can also help you to find answers to big questions like: 'what do I want to really do with my life?' Or: 'what's going to really make me happy?' Or: 'what should my priorities in life really be?'
Questions like this can often seem so overwhelming and confusing, not least because so much seems to hanging on the final decision. Doing a mind-map can give you instant clarity about what's really going on in a particular area or your life; or how you might want a particular area of your life to improve or change.
You'll get detailed destructions for how do this sort of deeper sort of mind-map a little later on this week, in the 'Big Interview' mind-map example.
These sort of mind-maps can save you thousands of bucks in therapy bills; give you instant clarity and direction; and you can apply them to literally anything you want.
Another advantage to mind-maps is that once you learn the basic skills, you can also start showing your friends and families how to do them, too. But if you start facilitating other people's mind-maps, you have to remember one very important rule (especially if you're doing a mind-map where you have a personal interest vested in the outcome):
Each person's mind-map has to reflect their own ideas, opinions, preferences and desires - not yours!
Facilitate all you want, make suggestions, set a direction - but encourage the person you're helping to express what they truly think and feel, otherwise the mind-map won't reflect their reality, and will be a waste of time.
Example: The High School mind-map
Let's say you want to help your kid to decide what high school, college, or course to go to. As the parent, you probably have your own preferences, but in order for a mind-mapping exercise to work, you'll have to put all your ideas aside, and give your child the space to see what THEY really want.
This is often very hard for a parent to do, so if you can't approach the mind-map in a neutral way, either don't do, or get someone else to facilitate it.
But if you're happy to help your child to discover what they actually want and prefer, then a mind-map can be an amazing way of enabling your teen to find their own clarity.
In this particular example, the teen in question got some very useful insight into herself as a result of doing a mind-map, and realized she actually didn't want the 'top' school she'd applied to. As a result, she decided to go to a school that was more laid-back, academically, but otherwise a much better fit for her in every other way.
In the next post, I'll teach you the basic rules of how to do successful mind maps.
One of the things I've seen happen a lot is what I call 'holistic therapy burn-out'. This can happen when someone religiously follows whatever special diet / special exercises / special practises / special routine is required from them as part of their holistic healing - and it doesn't work.
They don't end up getting pregnant; they don't manage to shift the weight; they don't get past their depression, or other chronic health issue.
When this happens, all too often the person experiencing holistic therapy burn-out gets salt rubbed into their wound when their practitioner of mentor starts blaming them for the failure.
That donut they ate three months ago stuffed everything up…they stopped getting up at 5am in the morning to meditate, and that's why it didn't work they way it should…they plain were just doing it wrong: they weren't taking the right stuff, or weren't taking enough of it, or were doing it wrong…
On and on the list goes.
And sometimes, it may even be true! But that doesn't disguise the fact that sometimes, people have the best of intentions, and they follow the dictates of their holistic therapy down to the last detail - and it doesn't always work.
Why is this?
Part of the reason holistic therapies don't always work applies to more conventional therapies and medications, too: God doesn't want them to. God sends you your problems and health issues as wake-up calls, to get a conversation going with Him.
When you cut God out of the picture, you often miss the point of why He made you ill, or stressed, or anxious in the first place, namely, that He's trying to get you to fix, change or improve something in your life, beliefs, habits or relationships.
Whether you're taking an aspirin or sniffing your pure lavender oil to make the headache go away, if you're not also asking the question: WHY do I have this headache?? - then you're really missing the point.
Normally, most holistic therapies usually do better on this score than conventional medicine, because they often acknowledge the mind-body connection to illness.
But there's a third factor to take into account, too, and that's the spiritual dimension. Physically, there could be absolutely no tangible reason why a woman can't get pregnant. Mentally and emotionally, she's mature, caring and loving - there's nothing obvious slowing it up there, either.
The woman in question has hours of acupuncture, watches her diet carefully, takes borage seed oil for years, even signs up for a few rounds of IVF, just to make sure she's doing everything she can to conceive - and still nothing.
Because God said so.
Why did God decide that?
That's between the individual themselves, and God. But for sure, it's not just a random, cruel act of 'fate': it's meaningful, it's deliberate, and it's designed to get a conversation going with the Almighty.
So where does this leave you, and all your efforts to get happy and healthy? Should you just throw up your hands in despair, and give up? Is it all predetermined anyway, then, and there's no point in trying anything else?
Not at all.
The answer is: continue to do your level best to achieve your mental and physical health goals. God wants you to eat healthily, and to exercise, and to work on your emotional and physical health anyway you can.
But He also wants to develop your spiritual side, too.
Most things in life come to teach you something profound: once you get the message, the problem usually goes away by itself. But not always. Sometimes, hard things come, and they stay, regardless of what you try to do to make them disappear.
Why? Because God said so. And when that happens, you really need God in your corner to get through the situation in one piece without cracking up or falling into despair.
It's not because you didn't stick to the diet, or the program, or forgot to 'omm' one day when you should have. It's just because God said so, and He's in charge of the world. And if your therapist or doctor doesn't know that, maybe go and find a different one who does, and who won't blame you when things don't go the way they hoped.
For the last few months, I've been trying to put across a persona here on the JEMI blog of being a serious, educated, knowledgeable person who REALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT, when it comes to mental health issues.
Look how much stuff I know about depression!
See how many cool facts I can tell you about social anxiety!
Be majorly impressed by the weird medical references I'm casually tossing into my posts!
All this stuff is collectively called 'playing the game', and it's what all the marketing bumpf told me I had to do, to get anywhere on the web.
But you know what? It's completely soul-destroying and I'm sick of it.
The turning point came last week, when I decided to do a new 'Linked-In' profile, to 'boost my platform' (cue: barf noises.)
I really, really wanted to include an entry clearly stating that I'd burned out from my ridiculous London career, and had spent the last few years pulling myself back to together, in just about every way possible.
But then I made the mistake of telling someone who knows 'how to play the game' what I was planning, and they pooh-poohed it the loudest way possible:
"You can't do that! No-one's going to take you seriously! They'll just think you're crazy! There's a time and place for everything."
I was crestfallen.
I listened to what my internet guru told me, and I didn't post up: 2006-2014 - Massive Repeated Nervous Breakdowns, panic attacks and major anxiety.
But then I realised something profound: No-one's taking me seriously anyway!
So why do I have to pretend, and 'play the game', and write all this pseudo-scientific cack that's actually killing my writing and my true self-expression?
In one of those ironies that God is so fond of, as I was off 'building my platform' about being the world's wannabe expert on overcoming depression, I was starting to get pretty miserable about it all.
So this post marks a turning point on the JEMI website: no more writing SEO-optimised posts that keep search engines happy (apparently…) but mean that 3,000 people are turning out identical numbered lists for Google.
So don't come here for '10 easy ways to get happy' or anything like that, because I'm not writing that stuff anymore (unless I really want to.)
What you'll get here is my honest take on emotional and health issues, from the birds' eye perspective of someone who is probably completely bonkers.
If that floats your boat, great. If not - there are MILLIONS of people and websites out there that are much better at 'playing the game' than I am, and I wish you the best of luck in tracking down '7 things to banish depression' and 'How to make millions via your website.'
As for me - I'm back to writing real stuff, warts and all. It may not make me millions (or even, pennies…) but it will make me feel a whole lot happier, and that's what really counts.