Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Pandora's Box - Tales of denials

In Greek methodology we come across their version of the first woman on Earth, Pandora. As with all religions free will is granted and we find that there is nothing particularly wrong with Pandora except for her curiosity which was given to her by the Gods anyway. 

Women are often thought of as nosey to this day, although if the truth be told, male curiosity is just as prolific, just more acceptable. As human beings we want to know answers in order to be able to know where we stand, know where our boundaries might lie and most of all to know how to function safely and within the laws of our nation (whichever that may happen to be). Our inquisitive natures help us to make all manner of wonders from clocks to clothes and from cures to chaos.

"Pandora's box is an artifact in Greek mythology, taken from the myth of Pandora's creation in Hesiod's Works and Days.[1] The "box" was actually a large jar (πίθος pithos)[2] given to Pandora (Πανδώρα) ("all-gifted", "all-giving"),[3] which contained all the evils of the world. Today, the phrase "to open Pandora's box" means to perform an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences." 
SOURCE: Wikipedia

Denial is a double-edged sword

This then is an article about the demons we keep in our cupboards, the skeletons that are often best left there, but sometimes it is wiser to face them in order to solve difficulties properly. It is an article about denial which is a term used in psychology to describe an attitude of mind for when we do not wish to face the harsh reality of truth and frequently we do not.

To take a large scale example from present day life, if we look at the .com revolution it very much repeats the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In the current global economic crisis workers are once again working twice as hard for less pay and that's if people are able to secure work. If you are unemployed, disabled or ill in anyway support services that work are once again hard to come by due to demand out stripping supply. It's almost as if we are taking a step back in time without learning anything from our collective history. Some would argue that that is just the way of life and nothing will change it. Those that claim that are suffering from denial because things do change albeit gradually.  

The world we live in is complex. Just as the industrial revolution eventually led to more people enjoying a better standard of living, so too has the .com age to a degree. Those left behind are often far further behind that most would like to realise, admit or face up to.

Change happens gradually for two reasons, the first being that we don't like sudden change as we find it difficult to cope with, and the second is that only a small percentage of people are prepared to roll up their sleeves and campaign tirelessly for changes that are truly for the benefit of all. You can probably name those at the top of those trees for they are all those famous folk who make history and who end up being globally recognised for doing so in the name of peace and well-being. Their reputations are usually untarnished despite many an attempt to discredit them. The reason such attempts are made are precisely because people don't like change especially if it means people giving up the 'perks' that enables them to take advantage of others less fortunate. Behind every famous name though are literally thousands of team workers.  

"Next came the Brazen Age, more savage of tempter and readier to the strife of arms, yet not altogether wicked. The hardest and worst was the Iron Age. Crime burst in like a flood; modesty, truth, and honour fled. In their places came fraud and cunning, violence, and the wicked love of gain. Then seamen spread sails to the wind, and the trees were torn from the mountains to serve for keels to ships, and vex the face of the ocean."

To give one instance of the effects of the .com age, instead of less paperwork we have more which is bad news for trees unless we recycle. Instead of more pleasure time away from computers we seem to constantly plugged in to them or other media gadgets.

When Pandora opened her jar of evils and she was immediately aware of what she had done and was fearful of what would happen next. Rarely is this true of us when we get answers to questions we weren't prepared for. When we ask for help and it is delivered in forms that we are uncomfortable with or that end up causing us even more harm we can sometimes end up wishing we hadn't asked for assistance at all. Good intentions can cause the most damage of all when a person's right to choose is not respected. 

This applies as much to those trying to provide support for others as it does to those on the receiving end of that help. This applies too, not only to individuals with their personal relationships, but to all human relationships from business to government departments and all the way to international politics among the world's leaders. 
It is of paramount importance to listen carefully and never to lie if we either want to help others or are in need of support ourselves. Truthfulness and listening skills are vital to both at all times for no one can help if you lie, nor can you be helped if you refuse to listen when someone has heard you properly. This is an absolute truth because all relationships involve people and all people have emotional responses to everything they encounter in one way or another.
“Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” - Plato

Sadly we live in an age whereby it is easier and sometimes safer and seemingly advantageous to lie which hardly helps and only serves to escalate suffering of all kinds. 

"The earth, which 'til now had been cultivated in common, began to be divided off into possessions. Men were not satisfied with what the surface produced, but must dig into its bowels, and draw forth from thence the ores of metals. Mischievous iron, and more mischievous gold, were produced. War sprang up, using both as weapons; the guest was not safe in his friend's house; and sons-in-law and fathers-in-law, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, could not trust one another. Sons wished their fathers dead, that they might come to the inheritance; family love lay prostrate."

It took two world wars to get to the point we are at now, let's hope it doesn't need another global conflict to turn the corner on our current dilemmas and present conflicts. With the .com age we have gained an 'awareness' and in counselling terms, "awareness is the first step." What we do with that awareness is critical to our futures. The difficulty we face now is avoiding overloading with so much information that we have no time to absorb or see what is 
actually good and is working before we make a blunder and muck it all up again. 

When we tell the truth, we do not have to share everything with everyone, merely what is relevant to that particular relationship at that particular time. It's how we can help ourselves to stay safe. 

"Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence." - Democritus

Three simple words

What is true of things on a global scale is also true for any individual. Any difference of opinion, thought or belief should just been viewed as just that - a differenceIf as individuals we can accept that we will not always agree on everything it opens the doors to better and more amicable communication. If we can all remember that one difference due to experiences of life never being identical even for identical twins then there is hope that respect for other peoples' perspectives on life will be established. How many differences can you tolerate before you decide to break off a relationship? If you do choose to break ties, how would you do so in an amicable fashion? This is far easier for individuals to manage than it is for governments, but if all individuals did manage it would it not also be far easier for governments to do the same?

In some instances it is better to cut ties immediately, such as any form of abuse - hence why we now have the United Nations and bans on trading with tyrannical regimes as and when they will help prevent suffering of the people of those nations. On the individual scale, in the UK we have refuge homes for victims of domestic violence which are kept secret except to those who MUST know in order to protect abuse victims.

"The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best." - Epictetus

For many who are mentally ill, the ethics of how the world functions and their frustrations in it not being more humane can figure so large that recovery is not viable and only management of their stress and anxiety levels is ever feasible. This particularly applies to those who have been in position of power or authority; or have work professionally in health and social care. Management of such conditions usually ends up being via long-term if not permanent medication regimes. In effect we live in a world where to care about it too much can result in being forced to take medications to silence you or switch your brain off, often by request of the sufferer themselves as no one individual can fix the planet and all it's problems.

Learning how to deal with life in a non-confrontational, amicable and stress-free fashion is largely what is at the centre of all the talking therapies that have been proven to work. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, here in the UK our Head of State her majesty Queen Elizabeth II has a team of mental health professionals on tap. They are there not only to ensure the health of herself and her family, but to safeguard a nation and hopefully help guide the Commonwealth which she happens to be head of too.  Perhaps all governments should employ similar departments in the future, perhaps... many already do. 

"Nothing is more active than thought, for it travels over the universe, and nothing is stronger than necessity, for all must submit to it." - Thales

In any one day as human beings we are privy to huge amounts of information regardless of what social status we happen to be born into or achieve. On the one hand we are swamped with information, on the other there is little or no time to analyse it enough to understand anything completely. One of the core aims of counselling as a talking therapy is to help people to focus upon what is working and what we have in our lives that is of meaning and pleasure to us.

Nothing is or can be as valuable or as meaningful as close personal relationships but getting to form them with so much misery, misunderstanding and worry is hard work; doing so when isolated from mainstream society can be one of the hardest and longest battles of all. Three vital words to adopt and to help us are "please", "thank-you" and "sorry" in any sort of relationship at any level.

Ideally the word 'please', should be used instead of abusive expletives when we want something; but frustration at not being heard can soon turn to anger to make it all the harder to maintain control of our reactions. The word 'thank-you' is in psychological terms a validation and acknowledgement for things that DO help so long as we never use it when we don't mean it. Without the use of this word we can only ever be guessing that we are doing any good at all. If we fall silent and never thank anyone, how can anyone know if any shred of their efforts is helpful?

Hardest of all is the word 'sorry'. It can be said without it being meant at all and then it becomes a lie that can obliterate all trust and hope. Even when an apology is meant it can seem that it isn't because unless the person apologising can correctly and accurately identify what they are apologising for it can feel virtually useless and a complete waste of time to then become a seed of future frustrations. Full understanding (or as detailed an understanding as possible) can only occur when we truly comprehend another's plight which requires detailed information devoid of assumptions and lies, a leap of faith in the trust department, courage and hope. That's never easy if you have ever been maltreated.

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves and the world around us.” - Socrates

These core values are present (or absent) in all our relationships with other individuals to varying levels at any given point; be they relationships with family members, children, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work, clients, suppliers, regulatory authorities or support services. They are the foundation stones to our well-being regardless of who we are or what health we enjoy. We cannot enjoy good health unless and until these foundation stones are thoroughly cemented in and built upon and it is hard work to not only establish them, but to maintain them too. 

Practise, practise, practise is the only way to achieve this but things are made all the more challenging when we are constantly reacting to life and what it throws at us - that is a constant that never changes. However, if human beings have the ability to dwell and fester on the negative aspects of life then we also have the capacity to focus on all the joys it brings too. Concentrating on one or the other will only ever make you ill and in the long term unhappy so a balance between the two is the theoretical ideal, as we cannot solve what we do not face. In many respects Pandora was right to open that box/jar of demons as otherwise we would never have been able to recognise or amend our faults.

Remember that a difference of belief, opinion, thought, behaviour or emotion is just that a single difference. We have the right to choose to stay in a relationship or walk away from one if only for a 'time-out' type of break. There is no law to say you cannot or should not start afresh with the same people you've walked away from yesterday at some future date, is there? If there is a recipe for getting relationships right it must surely be to decide upon how many disagreements will result in it not being worth our while continuing with that relationship at that point if all communication attempts to resolve difficulties fail. It may be one major difference if someone decides to use physical violence against you. It may be dozens or hundreds of little niggles for someone who merely expresses things in a way you dislike but their deeds outweigh and outrank their words enough for you to want to stick with them longer.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty of all for those suffering from mental illness is the feeling of isolation. In our sophisticated 21st century world it is nigh on impossible to be left in peace to live alone if one wants to have food to eat as our social structures involve either having money to buy food already grown, land to grow it or for people to not mind 'vagrants' living off the land by foraging for it.

You do not have to live alone to be isolated though, you can be awash with company or acquaintances who are all too busy to have time to support you. It is pointless to gauge or measure who suffers most as suffering should never be viewed in terms of a competition any more than who is financially better off. As one of our contributors has put it elsewhere, "pain is pain not a competition and whenever we view it as such we automatically escalate the problems and distort matters by diverting away from what needs to be addressed." We live in a world that has to prioritise suffering to be able to offer the most vital support immediately for those who are at crisis point first.

"Men would live exceedingly quiet if these two words, mine and thine, were taken away."  - Anaxagoras

Prevention of any and all reaching a crisis is always going to be quicker, cheaper and less time consuming than any cure. Perhaps governments will one day encourage much more investment in preventatives for mental health than has so far been tried. It is wise to seek help from your GP (doctor) early on, but if you then refuse to act on their advice, are you not in fact making it harder for yourself? Then again, are you sure you cannot think your own way out of stress, anxiety and depression without causing harm to anyone else or yourself? Have you tried? Some people can succeed in this, while others cannot. Why that is, we just don't entirely know yet. Most likely is it a combination of genetics and environment as neither can be separated from the other.

Much of our well-being comes down to a mixture of choice, will power and respect for others in terms of priorities. It is a matter of learning to set your own boundaries and limits for what is acceptable to you in realistic terms with regard to your well-being; and to do so without imposing or demanding preferential treatment unless experiences and highly qualified medical teams deem that it is necessary. All things end up being a question of understanding. Sadly the most in need will allow others to jump the queue time and time again for any and all support. For systems to work for our individual and global well-being we all need to take much more responsibility for opening a lid on our own demons in the jar as they can often end up causing harm to innocent parties including of course our own children.

There is never any harm in asking for support, but always be careful about what you wish for - wish and work for your own health above all else. Do what you can to prevent yourself either becoming ill or minimising the effects of illness just as you would over your physical health. Knowledge is power, but only if you use it wisely - it is better to ignore what is not useful with regard to your mental health. We are fortunate indeed that we live in an era whereby corruption and cruelty of every kind is distinctly going out of fashion.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle

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