Recently, I came across the work of Dr Paul Ekman PHD, who spent many long years refining the art of reading people's true feelings and emotions via their facial expressions.
If you didn't grow up in an emotionally-dysfunctional family (and you should know that makes you a pretty rare person!) - then your ability to accurately read other people's true feelings from their facial expressions should be pretty good.
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family where your safety and / or well-being depended on being able to read people's true feelings accurately, then your ability to accurately read other people quite possibly borders on the supernatural. (More on this another time, but researchers have found that a lot of the people who were physically beaten up as children, if they didn't get completely emotionally 'wiped out', actually developed super-sensitive abilities to read other people, and to sense their true feelings.)
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family where you had to pretend 'everything is fine', and that 'everyone is happy', and that 'it's all good' - even when it definitely wasn't, then this post is really for you, because your ability to match emotion to facial expression got disconnected in that environment.
You felt like someone was angry, (correctly...) but they told you they weren't. You felt as though someone was unhappy / stressed/ scared / panicked etc - but they told you they weren't.
So now, you probably have no clue about how the people around you really feel, and even more problematic, you probably have very little clue about how you yourself feel. But help is at hand. Ekman has put together a course that can teach you how to accurately read other people's emotions, and particularly what he calls their 'microexpressions' in an hour.
Here's how his site describes the different types of expressions that appear on a human face:
TypesMacro: normal expressions usually last between ½-second and 4 seconds. They often repeat, and fit with what is said and the sound of the person’s voice.
Micro: These are very brief, usually lasting between 1/15 and 1/25 of a second. They often display a concealed emotion and are the result of suppression or repression.
False: A deliberately-made simulation of an emotion not being felt.
Masked: A false expression made to cover a macro expression.
For months, I've been looking for the word to try to accurately describe the expression on a certain person's face who really creeps me out and upsets me. One look at this page on Ekman's site solved the mystery for me: it's contempt!
It struck me that if more of us could figure this stuff out just by glancing at someone's face, it would make life a heck of a lot easier to know who and what we're dealing with. Ekman also has a number of books that you can buy on Amazon, and I highly recommend taking a look, because micro, false and masked expressions are all around us.
People's characters really are written all over their faces, just we don't always know what we're looking at.
Someone asked for my response to this question over on Quora, and here's what I replied:
I really feel for you, but here’s the thing: killing yourself actually isn’t going to make your problems go away, it’s just going to make things worse.
Because you are a SOUL stuck in a body, and it’s your SOUL that’s in pain at the moment. And if you kill yourself, all that pain is just going to come alone with you to the next place, except you won’t be able to do anything to alleviate it, and you’ll see, with 100% clarity, why killing yourself was not the answer and actually only made things worse.
When people don’t believe in the spiritual dimension of things, and when they don’t believe that there is a reason that they’re alive, and that life isn’t just about materialistic things like buying big houses and earning tons of cash, or eating out every night, or other external signs of ‘success’, then suicide can seem like a sensible option in some ways, for the reasons you’ve outlined.
You’re hurting, you’re emotionally burnt-out, you’re despairing that it’s all going to turn around, you have no idea why you have to suffer so much, or why you have to go through all this.
But once you start to include the soul dimension, the picture alters radically.
Human beings are down here to work on our souls, to work on our bad character traits, to build the world in the unique way that only we can do it, and to get to know God. That’s it.
All the suffering we have, all the horrible things we experience, all the big (and small….) difficulties we have in life, it’s all aiming at the stuff I just wrote down in that previous paragraph.
God gave you all the really hard circumstances you’re in right now.
To bring the best out of you, and to encourage you to see past all the materialism and lies of the modern world and to get to know your Creator, and your inner dimension, or soul.
THAT’S the whole point of what’s going on. But if you kill yourself - you blew it. So when you get up to the next world, and the Heavenly court starts evaluating how you did in life, that’s when you’re going to understand just how big a mistake you actually made, by killing yourself.
And guess what? There’s more!
Because you didn’t do the job you came down here to do (i.e., connect to God, build the world and work on improving your character and overcoming your negative traits) - you’re going to get sent back down again, to try to fix that problem.
And because you killed yourself last time, your next life is going to be EVEN MORE DIFFICULT, because now you’ll also have to rectify all the mess you made in this lifetime, too, by killing yourself.
So, dear anonymous, PLEASE don’t kill yourself. It won’t help you.
What will help you, probably immediately, is to go somewhere quiet and to start trying to talk to God, about what’s really going on in your life, and why it has to be so hard.
Every hardship we have always has a message in it somewhere, that we need to work on something, or that we need to fix something, or change our beliefs, thoughts or actions in someway.
Maybe, you need to work on liking yourself more? Or, on developing more gratitude for all the blessings you undoubtedly still have in your life, no matter how much it sucks right now. Maybe, you need to figure out how to start feeling like your life has more meaning, and what things you could do to build a sense of happiness, optimism and purpose?
These days, we are all old souls. We’ve all been around the block many, many times, and we all have a lot of stuff we need to fix, particularly in how we treat our fellow man, and how we relate to God.
There’s a lot of work to do, and most of us have been pushing that work off for millenia, which is why modern life is just so darned difficult for so many people in 2016.
But killing yourself will only compound the problem - as you’ll very quickly discover if you actually do it, God forbid.
No-one can live life for you, no-one can turn things around if you won’t do that yourself, and take responsibility for yourself and what happens next. You still have so much to do in the world. YOU have a job down here, and you need to figure out what that is, and get on with it.
And as soon as you do that - and get God more involved in the picture - I guarantee that you’ll see a ray of light that will get stronger every day.
I just have one request: If you like what you're reading, pass it on to other people. The more of us who know what's really going on with our health and wellness, the better we'll all start to feel.
SO PLEASE SHARE THIS OFFER AROUND!
Ping it on to whoever you think might benefit from Talk to God, or the Happy Workshop, or 49 Days.
Having a kid tell us that they’re struggling is really hard for a parent to hear. Whether we admit it or not, all of us have a ‘guilt reflex’ that kicks in, and starts blaming us for the problem (and it’s often right - but more on that in a moment).
The trouble is, that then means that we want to shut down the cause of the pain and discomfort and guilt we’re feeling, which often means that subtly or otherwise, we give our kids signals to shut up and go away. That only has to happen a few times, before our kids give up on telling us things that we may find upsetting, or letting us into their inner lives.
When this becomes the ‘norm’ for the parent / child relationship, it can cause so much destruction, loneliness and heartache.
But this happens to even the best of parents, sometimes.
The parental guilt reflex is very strong in most of us, because on some level, we know that we affect our kids’ wellbeing and happiness more than anything or anyone else.
So now, let’s take a deeper look at what’s really going on here, and see if we can come up with some useful guidelines for how to really help our depressed children.
Adults are adept at hiding their true feelings, especially in the west where emotions have been pathologised. That’s why sometimes, God uses our kids to send us messages about where we’re really holding that we often don’t want to look at, accept or consider.
So the first thing to check is: which parent might also be depressed, and why?
Once the parent starts working on their own emotional issues, the issues tend to clear up really fast in their kids, too.
2. Find out why the kid feels depressed
Again, this bit can be SO hard, because of the parental guilt reflex. If you feel you’re going to blow up at your kid, get hyper-defensive, feel anger or crippling guilt, then you may need to enlist someone with more objectivity and perspective to do this part of the process.
But people usually feel depressed because they feel that what they think and feel doesn’t count, or that they’re worthless, or that no-one really cares about them - which are all REALLY hard things for even the most caring parent to hear!
Yet giving the child a chance to express themselves truthfully - and to say even the icky things that no parent wants to hear - without being attacked or ‘punished’ for expressing themselves, is a crucial part of the healing process.
Most of us can’t handle that so well (especially if the guilt reflex is kicking in, and we feel on some level the kid may actually be right.)
But for the child’s own mental health, they need to be able to express themselves truthfully, in a loving, 100% accepting atmosphere. If the parent can’t provide that (and hey, that’s OK to admit) - then find a good counsellor or friend WHO IS NOT GOING TO PUSH YOUR KID DOWN THE ANTI-DEPRESSANT ROUTE.
That last part is crucial.
No chemical imbalance has ever been found to cause depression, or any other mental illness, despite it being such a popular ‘theory’ of psychiatrists (who make most of their income from their exclusive ability to prescribe psychotropic drugs for mental illnesses.)
When kids get pushed onto anti-depressants to ‘make their problems go away’, instead of being encouraged to really speak out what they truly feel, and to re-connect to their families, and to deal with their negative emotions in a productive way, it’s setting them up for a lifetime of worsening mental and physical health issues.
I’m including some research articles, plus one documentary (bottom link) that you may want to check out for yourself:
Negative Effects of Antidepressants | Mad in America
Depression Screening in Children is Not Supported by Research
Antidepressants Often Prescribed to Enforce Heteronormativity
Depression Pills Made Me Unfit To Be A Mother
3. Don’t feel you have to ‘fix’ the problem immediately
Oftentimes, we parents feel as though we have to try and ‘fix’ our kids issues, or even prevent them from having issues in the first place.
While it’s understandable and well-intended, this approach actually does far more damage than good. Life is full of issues, and ups and downs, and negative emotions, and less-than-ideal responses.
When we send our kids a message that they ‘can’t’ be depressed, or that they have huge issues if they feel down, or that their ‘brain is broken’ (i.e. they have a chemical imbalance), we’re piling on guilt, anxiety and worry onto an already crowded platform of negative feelings.
The truth is: we all feel depressed sometimes. That’s part of life.
If the parent is operating from their own guilt reflex, then even without realising it their main focus will be on getting the problem to ‘go away’ ASAP (which is why medication also sometimes looks so darned appealing). But especially with depression, that’s only going to make things worse.
Instead, if we encourage our kid (and ourselves), and we do the work to find out what’s really triggering it, and what ‘message’ we’re being given via our negative emotions and depression about what needs to be looked at, changed or improved in our lives, then we’re teaching our children a magnificent lesson in how to stay mentally and emotionally healthy over their lifetime.
People with depression need to be empowered, in some way, to stop feeling like helpless ‘victims’ of circumstance. A key way to do that is to help them figure out WHO or WHAT is causing them to feel that way in the first place, and then to figure out how that scenario can be changed or improved.
4. Make sure the physical side of things is covered
If your child isn’t exercising enough, not sleeping enough, not eating enough of the right sort of food (around their inevitable intake of junk food…) - then that can also seriously contribute to feeling depressed.
Again, the mirroring principle will probably kick in here again, and you may want to consider if the parents are also sleeping enough, eating right and getting enough exercise.
30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, is scientifically proven to be more effective at overcoming depression, permanently, than medications.
Vitamin B12 is also a biggy, for overcoming depression (and a bunch of other mental illnesses…)
Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Brain Health | Blog | Kelly Brogan MD
5. Like yourself
This bit is also really crucial, both because your kid is just your mirror, spiritually-speaking, and also because if you don’t like yourself, your guilt reflex will kick-in big time and will skew your parenting response in a way that’s very unhelpful to both you and your kid.
Tell yourself: “I am doing the best I can!”
Also accept that sometimes, that best really isn’t very good (and that’s true for all parents, even the best ones, because none of us are angels.)
When we parents like ourselves more, and we know that we really aren’t trying to hurt our kids on purpose, or mess them up (even though of course that’s happening a lot…), then we are much gentler and forgiving with ourselves - and also with our kids.
We’re in this process called ‘life’ together. The more we can see that we’re good, the more we’ll also see the good in our kids, which is probably the single biggest ‘key’ to ensuring their mental health and wellbeing.
Dear reader, you’re a great mum or dad!
We’re all down here to work on ourselves and to fix ourselves, and the parents who can admit that they’re flawed, and struggling, and (at least occasionally…) ‘wrong’ are the ones that paradoxically raise the happiest and healthiest kids.
My kids know I am a really rubbish parent in a myriad of ways. They also know that I try my best, and often fail. They also know that I really love them. They also know that I’m (occasionally…) selfish, self-absorbed, mean, lazy, clueless [fill in the blank].
When I can fix this stuff, I do.
When I can’t, I try to apologise, and ask God to help me fill in the bits that are missing (and believe me, there’s a lot).
So it’s crucial to like yourself so that you know that even if your kid needs to say something ‘icky’ to you, in order to clear things up and get back on an even keel, or even if there’s stuff that needs improving or fixing, or even if you yourself have been struggling emotionally, that you are still a great person, and it’s not the end of the world.
That’s the single biggest present you could give yourself, and your children.
TO SUM UP:
Check out my book: Causes and Cures of Depression
Hat tip: Mrs S.
So, I just got sent a very interesting article - full of real, bona fide science about how the body really works - that is making some very important points about how we eat is even more important than what we eat.
In keeping with the theme I've been developing on this blog, unhealthy attitudes about food - even super-healthy food - can be far more damaging to a person's health and wellbeing than eating chocolate icecream.
(Cue: gasps of shock and amazement.)
When we feel bad or guilty about the food we eat in someway, even subconsciously, that directly effects how well we digest it, and how much good it will do for us.
You can read the article for yourself HERE, but rejoice lovers of chocolate: common sense may be about to prevail on the extreme diet front....
(I can dream)
For the last seven years’ or so, I’ve had repeated bouts of really painful stomachaches. At the beginning of trying of figure out all my weird health issues, I was convinced it was being caused by candida, and the no sugar-no starch (no food…) candida diet I followed for a few months seemed to do the trick.
But then, they came back again. And again. And again - and always in very weird, unexpected ways where I would literally be fine for months, then have half a day of stomachache, then nothing again.
I went to see a natural healer, who told me my gallbladder was playing up. So then I took the disgusting-tasting herbal remedy and again, that seemed to do the trick for a week or two. Until it came back again.
After a few years’ of this, I finally figured out that my stomachaches were emotional - i.e. I would feel some sort of emotional or spiritual ‘pain’ or distress that I hadn’t registered consciously, and then it would show up as a crippling stomachache instead.
Once I started to figure out a bunch of stuff about the many mentally-ill, negative people in my life - and how they were seriously impacting my physical health and well-being on so many levels - my stomachaches improved tremendously, and almost disappeared.
But not entirely.
The stomachaches return
Recently, I got a really bad stomachache again - like the sort I used to have in the bad old days - and I was stumped as to who or what was behind it, because I couldn’t pinpoint anything obvious that might have triggered it off. (That’s the problem: you never realize what the problem is consciously, which is why it shows up as a somatic issue, to try and get your attention.)
I decided to do a mind-map, to try to ‘dig underneath’ a bit and find out what the stomachache was coming to tell me. Because mind-maps are written and creative, they tap-into the non-verbal, right side of the brain that’s much more in-tune with our limbic system (the so-called emotional brain) and our primitive brain, that deals with fight-or-flight issues.
The mind-map showed me there were some big emotions attached to my stomachache, especially despair, fear and disappointment.
I was expecting the stomachache to lift now I’d got the message, but this time round, it hung on for a few more days, because there was clearly still more work to do. I went to talk to God about the stomachache, and I got a nudge to do another mind-map about an old friend of mine, who had basically dumped me when she moved away to a different continent.
I was a bit surprised, because I haven’t spoken to her for around a decade, and she didn’t seem like a ‘live’ topic in my life anymore, despite how much she’d hurt me all those years’ back. But I’ve learned not to argue with the steers I get in my personal prayer sessions, and I went to do the mind-map.
The mind-map comes through again
The results were stunning: Over the course of the mind-map, I realized that there had been a pattern snaking its way through my closest friendships since I was a kid: I’d give my ‘best’ friend my all, go all-out for them in any way I could - and sooner or later, I’d still end up being dumped / rejected / treated like a retard.
Here’s the thing: over the last few years, I’ve learned so much about personality disorders, and emotionally abusive behavior, that I really didn’t think there was anything more I needed to figure out about all the dysfunctional relationships I’ve had in my life. But I was wrong!
When I was doing that mindmap, I suddenly realized how the ‘theme’ running through it was contempt: my old dysfunctional ‘friends’ were happy to take anything they could squeeze out of me, but really they held me in contempt, and looked down on me from a place of superiority and condescension.
On the subconscious level, I was always trying so hard to please them because I was picking up the subtle message loud and clear that the ‘real me’ was somehow not good enough, or unacceptable. I always felt I had to tone myself, and my clarity, down somehow, to fit in with all the fibs they were telling themselves about what was going on in their own lives.
And then I got the next shock: I’m still doing that today! And I can’t take it anymore, which is why the stomachaches are back and escalating in intensity.
The problem is this: we live in a world that’s built on lies, but God is truth. So every time I tell myself a lie, or live a lie, or hang out with people who are avoiding the truth on some level, I’m effectively cutting myself off from my spiritual dimension, and God.
The world of lies
I’ve been covering some of the lies being told on this website, like the lie that mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances and ‘cured’ by pills; or like the lies that emotionally abusive behavior doesn’t hurt anyone; or like the lie that parents always and only do what’s best for their kids.
But the truth is, modern society is built on so many lies, from the unproven theory of evolution on up, that at this stage of the game, most of us are living a lie by default. Let me share one example, which really sums up what’s going on in so many people’s lives:
Recently, I’ve had conversations with three different people who are literally being made physically ill because they're in enormously dysfunctional and even abusive relationships with their spouses. Do they want to hear that? Nope. Are they getting better, despite all the conventional and alternative treatments they’re undergoing? Nope. Do they want to continue being so physically ill? Nope. Are they willing to look at what’s really causing the problem? Nope.
While these examples are spouses, you could switch in pretty much anyone and still get the same equation: parents, siblings, adult children, friends, bosses, other relatives….
There’s a huge mess going on all over the place, and most of us don’t want to look at it because it’s just too scary and painful. So instead, we’re telling ourselves lies about things not being so bad, or about medication and surgery being the solution to all our problems, or how if we only had more cash or nicer homes all the heartache would disappear.
It’s a world of lies.
And apparently, I’m stepping into it every time I leave my front door.
Sooner or later, the truth will win out
I don’t have a neat conclusion for what to do with all these insights. People are people, the world is the world, and baring a huge shake-up of the present world order, the lies are not going to disappear of their own accord.
But now that I know that living other people’s lies is seriously affecting my own physical health (again...), I need to do a lot of talking to God to figure out what to do next, and how.
It’s much easier for me to stay behind my curtain of relative anonymity, and not lift the lid on the challenges I’m facing in my own life. Writing personal posts like this is always a little risky, because it’s me, and my real life that I’m putting out there.
But I decided that even though ‘real’ is pretty unacceptable these days, (and even though there are still a bunch of people out there convinced I'm a 'retard') I still have to be as real as I can, because I know there are other people out there who are also sick of all the lies, and who are looking for reassurance that they aren’t the crazy ones.
When more of us start to stand up and start saying out loud: ‘The emperor has no clothes! The world is full of lies! Everyone is walking around feeling miserable, empty and despairing!’ (despite all the meds they’re taking…) - then change will happen. Change will have to happen. Because God is truth, and sooner or later, the truth will win out.
Depression, including clinical depression, is caused by spending too much time around negative, critical and emotionally abusive people who make you feel worthless and invisible.
(See THIS for scientific back-up for that statement.)
So let’s start with the DON’Ts first:
Now, the DOs.
According to Chinese Medicine principles, depression is caused by a weakness in the Spleen Meridian. (See HERE for more background on that.)
The following things will strengthen your Spleen Meridian, and work on the physical state of inner exhaustion that leads to the symptoms typically associated with clinical depression: