What people may say to conform when actually they are suffering inside with mental health issues
People with mental health issues often feel unable to fully express themselves. This is partly because of discrimination in society, and partly because of the socially constructed norms about how we are “supposed” to feel.
This leads to a duality of narrative, meaning that people may say one thing “out loud”, but feel something very different “inside”. This is further encouraged if the person is in contact with another person who is, for example, showing disapproval. If this occurs then the unconscious of the sufferer may well be triggered into defensive behaviour even if they consciously intended to be open and clear about their feelings.
What sort of things then prevent open and transparent statements of emotional pain?
The most common is the socially constructed “big 2”!:
- Mentally ill people are weak, different, sick, dangerous, only have themselves to blame, and other horrible untrue stereotypes.
- People should all be happy, are totally responsible for their emotions, and if they are sad then that means they should try harder to appear happy.
Part of the problem with the above is the individualisation of the personal construct within western psychological models. The individual has become known as someone “separate”, able to customise and choose their responses and reactions to whatever happens around them, and their civic duty is to remain motivated, positive and productive (in a capitalist means of production sense). If a person is sad or depressed, then surely some cognitive behavioural programming can “help” them to see things “differently”? Methods like bluntly applied life coaching, NLP, CBT and oversimplified hypnotherapy all get marketed with this in mind. Unfortunately however this is simply not how human beings are designed to function. We feel sadness, anxiety and depression because of internal AND external triggers, and the latter are meant to cause emotional reactions in order to inspire us to react and change what lies around us. We are designed to notice if “life sucks” so that we take stock and see how to change or escape the mess we find ourselves surrounded by. We are patently not supposed to “make ourselves happy”, this is suppression 101! When we suppress our true feelings, and ignore the informative data is offers us, we are in denial and simply ignoring things that need attention. We also tend to find that our unconscious minds demand attention louder and LOUDER until eventually ignoring it is not an option any longer. This often presents as psychosomatic illness such as IBS, head aches, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue symptoms, and the more common depression, anxiety and other complex mental health presentations.
Why have we fallen into the above unhealthy trap? Simply self actualisation, self knowledge and self empowerment, and the associated tendency to speak out and rebel has been a threat to authority throughout “civilisation”. A classic example of this is the Taoist faith, which emerged partly as a reaction to the very obedience and responsibility orientated Confucius philosophy and faith. In the West the monotheistic religions trampled anything pagan (paganism encourages a questioning attitude) and imposed the “correct” attitude. In fact Christian religion labelled depression as a “sin” for generations since it showed ingratitude towards God’s gift of perfection and life. Scroll on into more modern times and we now have a capitalist attitude of “means of production”. A responsible citizen is measured in worth by their willingness and ability to out and work and pay tax, buy and consume. Mental illness impairs this, and self awareness leads to awkward questions about whether this is the only way to create a society. Thus subsequent Governments have prioritised cognitive behavioural therapies and their tendency to create “measurable results”, which in practice means conformity. Most recently (2016-17) the Conservative Government in the UK is trying to equate work with mental well being, and ministers have suggested that employment be considered a form of mental health treatment!
Whatever your take on politics, with the above set of affairs surrounding us, it is all too easy to see why someone might not be willing or able to say “I can’t”!
What sort of things to people end up saying?
According to the 22 Words website who have collected a variety of typical phrases, these include:
(probable meanings are just one possible example of meaning someone might feel, it varies person to person!)
Probable real meaning: ” I realise you do not want to acknowledge or accept that I really am not fine”
Probable real meaning: “I want to be accepted for who I am, but since I feel inadequate and desperate, I am left feeling like I need help desperately”
“Life is Great”
Probable real meaning: “This is what I am meant to think and feel right? Actually I am dying inside and life sucks!”
“I hate myself”
Probable real meaning: “I feel hate towards myself, although I’m not sure if its me or life that’s causing it”
“I feel fantastic”
Probable real meaning: “you want to hear that I am happy, that everything is great, that I see things like I’m meant to, but I really really don’t”
“I’m falling apart”
Probable real meaning: “I can’t keep things together with the pressure of being what you all expect me to be, and how you expect me to be. It’s too much and it isn’t real”
What can you do about it?
You have a choice – you can accept the therapy type models that are designed to “keep a lid on it”. or you can take a holistic and critical approach.
One Taoist model is to imagine life like a river, and the person like a swimmer. Life has currents, dangers, obstacles and challenges that are outside our control but are totally real. All we as swimmers can control is how we swim the river as best as we can. Trying to be happy is the current is dragging us down is nonsensical, instead we need to change direction. Thrashing the water in anger is also useless, maybe we need to tread water and rest awhile.
In therapy we can work on surviving the challenges that life throws at us, we can tackle and make our choices, and we can try to handle the stress of life’s obstacles, but we can not make every pink, fluffy and without hassle! Nor can we genuinely program people to be fine no matter what, since some things just are not fine and are meant to elicit a response! Essentially then we can help heal wounds, we can strengthen ourselves, and we can make better choices, but we can not stop tough stuff happening or make society any less problematic!
Stuart is published regularly in a column called “Stuart’s Political Diary” commenting on the state of UK politics and it’s impact on therapy, psychology and people. He is also published as a chapter author in a recent discussion on the future of psychological therapies. He writing reflects a deep interest in critical psychotherapy, political activism and philosophy.
See also: Things we say when in pain
Psychology, politics, critical psychotherapy, what people say, people in pain, psychotherapy, mental health, mental illness, mental anguish, signs of depression, repressed voice, unable to express myself, what people expect me to say, the lies of mental health, counselling, narrative, philosophy, Edinburgh, Scotland, Falkirk, CBT, CBASP, Mindfulness, Eastern psychology, Eastern philosophy, cries of pain, repressed cries of pain, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, psychoanalysis, self help, mental health support, mental health experiences, mental health reality, humanistic psychology