Monday, 13 March 2017

Nice and Too Nice - what's the difference?

What is nice? One person’s nice is not necessarily another person’s nice. How do we know we are nice is another consideration. People might comment on how obliging so and so is, that they are always available and seem so selfless and caring. This feedback either directly or via others might be comforting or assuring; it may also be affirming. Is this healthy? 

Niceness can be healthy if there is no sense of unreasonable obligation to general others attached to it. That is, one has a healthy dedication to one’s own needs and wants. She knows what these are and tends to them without fear or favour. She is not addicted to the needs, demands and appraisals of others. She intuitively understands that her worth is not dependent on others (unless allowed!). As Eleanor Roosevelt said:

If we worry about how others view us and we learn to need the affirmation of others we put ourselves at risk. What happens when we don’t get the acknowledgement we seek? What happens when our niceness isn’t rewarded? What happens when we don’t get what we have learnt we must have, the affirmation of our niceness; of us? Michelle Martin would say that we would be living in the realm of the overly nice; where we are too nice. 

Self-esteem is a concept that is used in many contexts when discussing mental health and well being. It is used to describe how a person views oneself. She makes estimations of her worth and usefulness; she makes assessments of her deeds and accomplishments and may ascribe a grade to her total efforts.

Some like Dr Albert Ellis who created Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy regards self-esteem to be detrimental to our mental health because it is conditional. How one esteems oneself is variable and can wax and wane depending on circumstances. This is self-defeating according to Ellis who asserts:

Ellis’ REBT talks about unconditional self-acceptance, the belief that our worth is not negotiable and can’t be attached to others assessment of us or how well or badly we may perform at tasks. This idea is taught to students in many schools and of course in the counselling context to help people develop a kind of ‘psychological muscle' or immunity to help deal with failure and rejection. Jonas Salk (creator of the polio vaccine) to Martin Seligman said:

"If I were a young scientist today, I would still do immunisation. But instead of immunising kids physically, I'd do it your way. I'd immunise them psychologically."

So are you a 'self esteemer' or a 'self-accepter' and how do these relate to niceness? Is there a healthy nice and an unhealthy nice?

Self esteemers may get caught up with pleasing others and ascribing self-worth to personal achievement. One may seek the approval of others and in doing so will ignore personal wants, needs and aspirations. This may in turn cause anger, anxiety, resentment and depression so strong is the need to please.
Self-accepters will not feel so obliged to others. They will consider their own needs and desires which reflect a healthy and unconditional sense of self-worth. They will not need (though they may desire/prefer) the approval of others nor will they always have to succeed at tasks (though they may want to) because they understand that their worth is inviolable and will remain intact even when things don’t go so well.

Are you a nice 'self accepter' or a too nice 'self esteemer?'

Friday, 10 March 2017

REBT and Growth Mindset

Nothing is new under the sun! Epictetus said it. Marcus Aurelius said it. And Buddha said it! Even Shakespeare proffered similar sentiments when in Hamlet, Hamlet said 'nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so!' This kind of thinking common to all of the above is incorporated in Albert Ellis' REBT - Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Ellis took the wisdom of these great thinkers and developed the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. Here Ellis provides a model which teachers and counsellors and carers can use to help others understand why they act and feel as they do.

The second workshop (of a series of 10 scheduled for 2017) examined the links between growth mindset theory and REBT. A large contingent  of counsellors, educators and preservice teachers met at the newly opened Centre4Rational Emotive Behaviour Education.

We considered how each complemented the other and decided that Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is 'on the mental health education/promotion money' when addressing whole school positive cultural change.

REBE is a student, teacher and parent friendly approach to behaviour education and mental health development and is well received by the teaching and counselling communities.

In workshop 3 we explore Franklin the Turtles situation when his best friend moves away. Does he 'get' sad and angry or does he 'make' himself sadder and angrier than he need be? Is he sad or depressed? These and other issues will be examined through the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. Looking forward to it!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

When You Have the World at Your Feet - REBT and feeling OK

Delilah Types shares some thoughts about depression. It was prompted by recent media reports about swim Olympian Grant Hackett and his ongoing struggle with his mental health. Danyelle has had her own challenges which she has shared with us in her blog.

Some reports seem to express surprise that someone so talented and gifted and who presumably has substantial material wealth could possibly fall victim to depression. Others will say that depression will strike anyone any time no matter what their personal circumstances, material or otherwise. When the world is (seemingly) at their feet!

Dr. Albert Ellis (creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) said that as constructivists we actively create our own habits of thinking. He maintains that our personal beliefs (knowledge) about ourselves, others and life (our personal philosophies) in general will affect how we respond emotionally and behaviourally to challenging events.

If we accept this theory then we can argue that any 2 people who have e.g. performed badly at a job interview, will experience the situation differently.


Poor interview performance

Thinking reaction:

Person 1: That was a shit interview. I'm a hopeless twat. What's the point!
Person 2: That didn't go so well. I may have to lift my game. Back to the drawing board.

Feelings/behaviour reaction:

Person 1: Depressed, angry and ashamed - excessive drinking, self harming
Person 2: Disappointed, annoyed - life as usual, review past performance and refine, fine tune

The same event is experienced differently by these two people. Why? Because they have constructed different 'belief rules,'  i.e. personal philosophies that are linked to how they feel and how they behave in response to life's happenings.

I don't know Grant Hackett but I can suggest an explanation as to why he may be feeling depressed and angry according to REBT.

He has been conditioned from an early age to hone and develop his athletic capacities to an elite level. He has learnt that his worth is linked to his and others high expectations of him. He has learnt to expect nothing less than his best times and performances and he believes that people rely on his prowess and achievements to feel good about themselves. He doesn't want to let them down. Their view of him becomes his main motivation for his drive to be consistently excellent. He doesn't just desire others approval he needs it. He will as a fallible human being fall short of his own high expectations and it is how he responds to these disappointments which is key to his well being.

Unconditional self acceptance is the antidote to self downing and feelings associated with low self worth. The hallmark of the perfectionist is to put all her self worth eggs in the same self worth basket which puts her on track to be the proverbial basket case! (I must do well. People should always think well of me). 

Developing and cultivating unconditional self acceptance is the goal. It can be a long road to wellness but it can be achieved by working hard at it.

In a sense we are the architects of our own depression; no one or nothing makes us feel as low as we get. It is how we estimate our worth as human beings that determines how we respond to failure. Can we be good? Can we be bad? Are not being and doing different? What's the difference between I am bad and I've done badly? If I am not what I do how can I be a failure for not doing well at that interview? Or If I am what I do then failing at an interview will mean I am a failure (I am what I have done ie a failure)!

These are the philosophical questions that we can choose to engage with because only in doing this will we be able the challenge and change those unrealistic and irrational ideas about ourselves and consequently we will feel better and act more self helpfully.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Half Joking Whole Earnest - not so funny jokers!

“Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”

I appreciate clever humour; intelligent wit and banter in the right context in the right company can be somewhat amusing.

What do you do when someone habitually says something that is not clearly received as being particularly funny and which contains some kind of veiled attempt to jibe or ridicule? When the attempted joke falls flat it is followed by 'Only joking!' 'Just kidding!' 'Only a joke!'

Here’s an example; ‘nice shirt but it’s wasted on you!’ ‘Yeah good one’ you think and then before you can say anything ‘only joking’ he says. Or, ‘where did you get your haircut? You should ask for your money back!’ (for the umpteenth time). And then you know what comes next don’t you? 

If, as happens often you respond to this 'only joking' joke with a hint of confusion expressed in quizzical tone accompanied by a facial contortion you will get the reply; 'only joking ...' And this makes everything right again. End of story. Right?

This is an easy out for the person who is known to embed a subtle message of criticism in some vague ambiguous utterance or contained in supposedly playful banter that can be construed as borderline offensive and less than amusing. This is not clever humour by any means. It is predictable and not worthy of an adult, senior in years.

Now I appreciate that it may be an issue of interpretation and so one may be inclined to allow the 'only jesting' jester the benefit of any doubt, but .... there is a consensus that when this jester jests he is also conveying a not so subtle jibe or dig at the targeted jestee.

I'm paranoid I hear you say but I'm not the only one who receives these gems of kiddology in such a fashion. The jester in question will also add to the 'only joking' line 'you should know me by now' chestnut. Now it would seem I don't know him that well and I should for if I had I would have ‘got the joke!’

No I don't know him (nor should I nor do I want to) whatever that means and his 'just a joke' caper is not a joke at all!

What's the goal of the 'just joking' and 'you should know me by now' faux wannabe humorist? What is he doing that he thinks others don’t know what he’s doing? I do have some theories but I won’t go into them here. I will however suggest some ways to deal with such boorish behaviour:
  • Avoid spending unnecessary time with him.
  • When he is only joking just respond by saying ‘is that so?’
  • Say ‘I don’t quite get what you mean but I’ll sleep on it.’
  • Say to yourself ‘his behaviour is bad but he is not totally bad.’
  • Remember that there are people in the world who lack any kind of insight and thus don’t change.
  • Say ‘that’s interesting’ and move on.
  • Tell him his behaviour can be offensive (though this doesn’t sit well with a narcissist).
  • Ask him to explain what he just said as it isn’t clear.
I will leave you with this quote from Clementine Ford who writes:

‘ ….. smart comedy doesn't spin gold out of an easy target. Jokes that rely on sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism to draw a laugh aren't saying anything new or interesting. Instead, they're doubling down on tired, hackneyed tropes about people who experience less power than the person telling the joke.’

Saturday, 18 February 2017

It's My Privilege To Be a Teacher

It's been been a while since the last post and life continues to unfold often as planned and anticipated and at other times in a tangential manner. We seem to have a trajectory in mind, a vision how things might pan out, a virtual template to guide us on our way. Things don't (why should they?) always go as imagined but ain't that the spice of life? The odd happenstance from left field (where did that come from?) will issue forth a challenge to meet and negotiate, an invitation perhaps to reach beyond yourself. Or indeed it may be an unanticipated delight that stops you in your tracks and lays a subtle smile across your hitherto sullen (feels that way) countenance.  The odd curve ball that's hard to lay a bat on and strikes you out before making a play! The tee off goes awry and your 4th golf ball goes off into the rough never to be seen again and it's only hole 2 of 18! Shut up already with your sporting analogies I can hear some say. OK I hear you!

So you've decided to feel miserable and resent that today is a day where you don't want to go to work but you have to! You know the joke where the mother is trying to get her child to get out of bed? You know where she says you have to go to school because 'You're the teacher!' That kind of day.

Then you arrive at school and automatically you start to do the intuitive things that have made up your routine forever it seems. And you are soon in the groove and you control what you can and your only expectation is to expect anything. Ain't that the way of schools? Of teaching? Of learning? Of life? Of course it is and why should it be otherwise I ask? To do so might suggest a view that perhaps all should or indeed can go the way I want it to go i.e. My Way! Now that rings a bell ...

But it is folly to assume that all will be fine. I recall my dad telling me of the ass you and me become when we make assumptions about how things should be.

Then you begin to take in the sights and sounds and feel of the place as you stroll along the corridors and poke your head into the classrooms and engage with colleagues and students and slowly you are reminded why it is you get out of bed in the morning.

You see:

  • Students skipping to greet their school mates in the yard as they discard their school bag somewhere approximate to where they line up
  • The teachers in a shared unit with other helpers and volunteers preparing breakfast for all children, especially for those that have had none
  • The parent/carer who has to rise in the wee hours to get her child who has special needs ready for school and who offers a big smile as she drops her off at school and hurries on to work
  • The students who spontaneously hug their teachers in a genuine gesture of affection and respect
  • The smiles exchanged between students and their peers and between teachers and their students
  • The teachers who meet to talk about the day, to share ideas - readying themselves for teaching and learning
  • The teachers who treat the child who seems not to be able to shake off those persistent nits in her hair or who showers and dresses the child who has slept in the same clothes for several nights
  • The teachers who put a food hamper together every week for struggling families and who will deliver it after hours if need be
  • The teacher who has spent 3 hours after school has ended on the phone to authorities to get support for a child who is at risk going home
  • The student through silent tears who trusts you enough to tell you of the heartbreak and pain of missing his dad who suicided only two years ago and how he has resolved to be the best he can be
  • The child who starts crying because she is reminded she won't see her dad for a while because he is in jail and how her mum will go into the bathroom and sobs on the bathroom floor (and she cries again) whilst big sister makes tea
  • The teacher who says 'I'm getting through to this child at last. She's beginning to smile again!'
  • The child who as a five year old would bang his head on the floor to articulate the pain of abuse and who two years later smiles more often than not
  • The child who begins to understand that he isn't bad for doing bad but is always worthwhile

As the day unfolds we engage with students in many ways in different situations and as it ends we are reminded why it is we get out of bed in the morning. Because what teachers do matters to our young charges. We are challenged to respond to their needs at every level and in doing so they teach us more than we can ever teach them. It is a privilege to be a teacher and to be accepted into their young lives.

This is a note I received today from a student and teachers get many such gifts in the course of their teaching careers. These words in a note of appreciation from this young person is one major reason why I get out of bed in the morning and it prompted me to write this.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

You Are Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons) - REBT and Unconditional Self Accceptance

This is a favourite of mine. This in an ideal world is what I'd like all students to discover about themselves. The concept of unconditional self acceptance that we teach through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is illustrated here. In a world where it seems that Lisa has been abandoned by those she looks up to she can fall back on her own unshakable belief that she is always worthwhile. The teachers and SSO's at Para Hills School P-7 in South Australia and teachers everywhere want this for their students. This excerpt from The Simpsons and many others can be used to teach and reinforce important ideas about confidence. Albert Ellis who created REBT encouraged educators and counsellors to use popular culture to explore concepts such as unconditional self acceptance. Ellis' work lives on in a growing number of schools in South Australia. Good stuff!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Dogma, REBT and Mental Health - a case study circa 1961

I was about six and the parish priest walked into the room. His vestments swirled around him as we all rose in deference to this holiest of holy messenger of God. The air wafted over us as he passed, stopping to settle in the middle of the front of the class. He was like a giant in black robes as he towered over us all, his large golden crucifix hanging from around his white dog collar, adding to his mystique and the drama of the situation.

“Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man." St 
Francis Xavier

My teacher, sister Mary explained that Father Pat was here to talk about heaven and hell and how we could be good people; how we could win over God's favour via good deeds and how the sacraments of confession and communion would ensure we could enter the gates of heaven one day. I felt quite scared and my fear continued to grow as he began his talk in his Irish brogue...

... 'Sure isn't it true that the good Lord has given us free will? D'ya know what that means?' He answered his own question and we just sat in awe as he expounded on how it was our job to do this and to think that. I was told what to believe as decreed by the priests and nuns as I continued my indoctrination in the absolutes of the dogma of the Catholic version of Christianity. I was a sinner and it was God who would forgive my sins and deliver me from all that was bad and evil!

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The priest continued in earnest. He had with him a sheet of blotting paper and a fountain pen. He emptied a small amount of ink onto the sheet. The ink slowly spread outwards from its epicentre and his godliness declared, 'this is your soul when ye are born. It is already stained by original sin. When ye are baptised your sin is forgiven. Such is the power of God!' (he made the sign of the cross and looked heavenward).

He then pointed to the right side of the room (our left) as a representation of heaven; where good people go, who think and act in accordance with the word of God. To his left was hell. This is where we would go if we didn't repent our sins; eternal fire and damnation awaited those of us who were sinners, those who blasphemed and swore, who told lies and had bad unhealthy (carnal) thoughts and imaginings.

He proceeded to empty a larger amount of ink onto the blotting paper. The stain radiated from where it was placed on the white paper. When it stopped the priest declared that a significant sin would have been made to make such a blemish. He motioned towards 'hell' and stopped. He said, 'this is a venial sin. Your soul still has divine grace but it is dirty and needs cleaning! God forgives us all!' Things would be fine if we repented our sins and paid the appropriate penance. So off to confession we could go and all would be OK again.

The priest became animated and his voice more shrill as he emptied the entire contents of the pen onto the blotting paper! He walked to the left of the room and as the ink stain spread on the paper he got closer to 'hell.' 'This is your soul when ye commit a mortal sin. Sure this is when God is most unhappy with ye. Ye are in grave danger of not going to heaven!'

By way of illustration of the concept of sin and its consequences Father Pat had hit the proverbial on the head. The class of six year olds sat in silent terror as Sister Mary thanked the priest and invited us all to pay close attention to what the 'good' father had said to us. 'Remember that God is watching you. He is everywhere!' she reminded us as the priest left the room as dramatically as he had entered. Whoosh and he was gone.

That thirty minute session above all others at junior school had impacted me in ways I would never imagine, consciously and unconsciously. The teaching of dogma (a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true) leaves an impressionable young person constrained (controlled) by these 'absolute truths' that govern our very existence. What were these truths that could not be questioned? How could these impact on ones mental health and well being?

  • The idea that we are born to serve and adore an omnipotent being who made us in his image and lives in heaven. 
  • That he is aware of our every action and thought. That heavenly privileges can be withdrawn if and when we sinfully transgress the rules of the dogma laid down. 
  • That we are told we must love our neighbour as ourselves and that should we ever covet our neighbours possessions (material and otherwise) in thought or in deed would constitute a sin that would invite the wrath of the vengeful God that we were all taught to fear. 
I did unto others until I resented them with a passion. I learnt to seek the approval of all and sundry because in pleasing others I was pleasing God. I lost my own identity in placing others well being above my own mental health. I would expect others to do likewise for me and felt angry when they didn't (why should they?). I learnt to be judgemental - people should/ought/must think/act as I do according to the rules (again why should they?). The propaganda had worked and I was in the thrall of the dogma that I had inherited. My absolute beliefs were rusted onto to my subconscious and I had all the answers! So I thought.

Fortunately I happened upon the work of the Stoic philosophers, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens and Albert Ellis who were all singing from the same hymn sheet. An opinion is just that and doesn't constitute fact.

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.  Bertrand Russell

A persons worth is not tethered to how others think of her nor to her successes or failures. I learnt that thinking in absolutes stopped me from considering other philosophical views. I moved from the fixed inflexible thinking of the governed and subservient; from an absolutist to a free thinker. I began to question what I had been told to be irrefutable. I had started to develop independence of thought; to think for myself!

In REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) terms I shifted from believing that I must always be perfect and achieve my goals. That people I like must like me. That the world should give me what I want. If none of these demands were satiated it was the greatest travesty of justice! (because it shouldn't be that way!). I felt out of whack a lot of the time because I wasn't thinking straight!

The universe doesn’t care about you, it’s not for or against you, it just doesn’t give a shit. Albert Ellis

I instead learnt to accept that I would sometimes (often) not hit the mark (and the sun still rose in the morning). I understood that everyone can't see me as I would like them to regard me (I chose to prefer this was the case). I learnt that the world/life doesn't take into account my personal needs and sensibilities and it is how I responded to events that mattered (I preferred things to go well but didn't demand that they should). 

This is a continuing journey and I subscribe to the philosophy of Albert Ellis who said:

The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realise that you control your own destiny.