WHY CHRISTMAS?

Cartoon about a family standing in front of a ...
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Okay, it’s all but over for another year. You may view this with a huge sense of relief or you may feel sad and wish Christmas could go on forever. Which ever camp you belong to, I can guarantee your waist will be thicker and your bank balance smaller. Your family may have driven you nuts and you wish you’d been born an orphan or lived alone on a desert island!  So why do we do it? Why is this festival so important to us in what is a largely secular society? In a society that is currently pretty hard up and full of split families?

With all the enforced jollity, I guess we have time to put aside any problems and pretend the world is all sweetness and light. (Oh, that is was…) We can look forward. We can be optimistic about the future. It will be better than the past. It must. Being with family and friends and sharing a celebration together makes us feel supported. We are not alone. The whole nation is part of our circle of friends, because everyone is doing the same thing. There is safety in numbers.

Yet, many more parents than in the past will be alone on Christmas day. Once our children become adults, they often leave and make lives for themselves in far-flung places. So this year, and I sense increasingly as time goes on, couples will sit in front of their computer screens using Skype to connect with their offspring on December 25th. Across thousands of miles, the faces of their children are projected on to a screen and they will hold a conversation as if they were sitting together on the sofa in the living room.  It’s bizarre! Of course, when your kids are young, they are wrapped up in their lives; to them, seeing you on a screen is perfectly adequate. But for many mums and dads, it can be poignant but frustrating. You want to hold them, to kiss them, to go places with them, to have them eat your carefully cooked Christmas lunch. Half and hour on Skype just doesn’t hack it. But you stay buttoned up because you know for them, it’s enough and your greatest Christmas present is to know they are happy and safe and well.

Then there are families who are separated, through break-up and divorce. Kids can have split loyalties. It’s a time when mum and dad should be together. Kids want to be with both parents at the same time, but when couples split, children have to come to terms with feeling a deep sense of loss while trying to show their parents individually, that they are happy, because this is the time for people to be happy, isn’t it?  Making sure that parents are civil to each other during a separation, is challenging. Being civil about marital break-down is difficult at any time, but at Christmas, nobody wins really, because underneath all the jollity, it’s likely that everyone feels that sense of loss.

But then, as I said, it is also a time of looking to the future and seeing better times ahead. Kids adapt and if there is a positive and loving atmosphere around them, they will cope. That’s why extended family and friends are so important. It takes a whole community to raise a child. It takes the love and care and consideration of a whole community. It takes an awareness and understanding that kids caught up in a painful divorce need special love and attention that continues, after the celebrations are over.

I still want to be able to guide my children and grandchildren.  I look back at the mistakes I have made and I know that at the time, I didn’t see them as mistakes. It’s only in retrospect, that I realise how badly I went wrong at times. So do I have anything to offer my offspring?  Well, I do but the problem is, like me when I was young, they may not want to listen. I have to accept that we all have to make our own mistakes, but it’s hard for parents to see this happen, when they have been through the same, and know that a different course of action might lead to a better outcome. Yet, that’s how it is.

At Christmas, we can show our families that support is the one thing that will never go away and is never a mistake. Supporting your family now, more than any time I can remember, is crucial. Whether you believe in the story of the Nativity or not, it has a good plot, because it’s about a family. All of us start our lives in some sort of family and family memories are the most potent. Christmas is a time to remember that.

 

 

 

 

 

BLOW YOUR MIND!

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...
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The brain is a magical, marvellous piece of kit, isn’t it? Snuggly fitting in millions of ordinary heads, it works miracles every second for each lifetime.

Scientists now know a great deal about the working of the brain, but they still don’t get it all. There is mystery going on that is bigger that the Higgs Bosun kerfuffle. Think about broadband – it’s a small miracle. You sit at your computer and when you touch a key or the mouse, information and images from across the globe flash on to your screen. That took a hell of a lot of brain power to discover and make work. Well, your brain is a trillion times more complex. Interactions between billions of neurons through trillions of connections are happening as I type this. Don’t think about it for too long or your brain will hurt…

So how to illustrate this huge puzzle in a way that mere mortals like me can understand? It doesn’t happen at the touch of a mouse. No, no, no… What goes on in your brain is physical. It happens in space and in time. It involves a set of physiological structures. That’s what makes the neurons fire and talk to each other.

Now thoughts – well that’s another matter entirely. Thoughts do not have any literal weight, or a colour, or smell of anything. In fact, thoughts have no physical property at all.

That’s why scientists and thinkers used to surmise that the mind and the body were totally separate, working on different grid systems. That created another puzzle – how do they interact. Scientists today don’t subscribe to this notion. Instead they ponder on the hidden world of memory and character that makes each of us unique.

So here we are, looking again at how our inner world affects our outer world. The environment we live in, the people we interact with, all these factors outside our heads and effecting what is going on inside. This idea comes from considering that when we understand something, there has to be a connection between what happens in the brain and what we are trying to understand in the real, tangible world.

For example, when you see a tree, to understand that you are looking at a tree and to deal with the ‘concept’ of a tree and be able to see that a tree is not a bus or a cathedral, things have to happen in your head.  You must have a relationship with trees outside our head.  There must have been an actual encounter and the brain must have registered a picture of a tree at some point. There has to be a relationship inside as well as outside your head, so that you can discuss a tree in all its forms.  This is not magic. It simply means that to see trees and know what they are, we must refer to trees out there in the real world and not simply see them as a concept inside our brain.

So that means that ‘thought’ must be connected to the outside world to show that our minds are not just about brain activity but are about the social and physical environment. Thoughts are therefore based on surroundings and not just what is going on in the brain. This leads us to think that understanding the mind isn’t just about understanding how the brain works. We have to understand much more about both because there has to be a relationship between both mind and brain.  And along with understanding both, we have to look at and understand language, society and even history.

Once upon a time, the mind was thought to be the seat of the soul and maybe it is. But we have never defined what the soul actually is, or if it even exists. We know so little about the workings of the mind that the blind continue to lead the blind on this issue and the ‘soul’ conundrum. I suppose for simple folk like me, with no scientific training, the thought that the soul is hidden somewhere inside me and is what makes me who I am, is much easier than grappling with scientific theory about how the mind works.

At school, the nuns described the souls in a way that made me think of it as white overall that draped itself around me. It was invisible but God could see its whiteness – or not! If I had committed a venial sin then that Persil whiteness would be splattered with small black dots as if I’d been jumping in puddles. A mortal sin was much more serious. The stain would be huge and very hard to get out without the appropriate number of Hail Mary‘s and Glory Be‘s. It was strangely comforting to know I could always go to confession and be put through a sacred washing machine, driven by prayer. Once the cycle was over, my soul would be spotless again. Ah, how uncomplicated life was then.

I have always been a great fan of thinking. It is sad that the concept is out of fashion these days. Mindlessness is everywhere. Some of us, seem at times, to be vacuous. There is a shallowness of perception that shows itself in the sort of television and films being made. Schools teach kids to pass exams – even examiners think it’s okay to drop a hint to teachers about the questions; see reports in the media of late. Who cares if we don’t exercise that most amazing part of our anatomy, the mind, by teaching and expecting people to think in the same way you would teach an obese person to change their diet to become healthier?

Thinking on a daily basis, makes you mentally healthier, in my view. It broadens the world for you. It allows you to question everything and to wonder about how to change things you know instinctively are wrong. If you don’t think, you accept the status quo unthinkingly. You are also far more likely to ‘follow orders’ in circumstances where a little individual thought might have changed things in ways that couldn’t be imagined – think dictators; Hitler et al. The people stopped thinking because the trains ran on time.

When we challenge or explore anything to do with creativity; when we try to understand the artist, we look for the influences that shaped him/her. We stare at old masters and wonder at the skill. But is it just the retina and the optic nerves that shaped the way a painter paints? And what gets that retina and nerves going? And just by understanding how vision works, that doesn’t mean we understand individual visual perception? That is different in an artist – think of the way Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa‘s smile. Was it her smile real, or was it a combination of her smile and the visual perceptions of Da Vinci himself – which would have included all the external influences on him through his life?  And when we look at her, do we just ‘see’ her, or do we see her ‘as’ connected to a million thoughts in our heads as we stare. The visual experience we are engaged in is about more than just the workings of our optic nerves; it’s about the wider and expanding world beyond our head. Miraculous.

Thinking should be part of your day, like eating five portions of fruit and veg. It’s a fun hobby. Try it.

 

 

 

 

 

LOOS AND VIEWS

I couldn’t face Christmas shopping this morning, so instead I walked. And walked and walked and walked. There is something about the rhythm of the step that clears the head and makes the brain function better.

The walk was a close  encounter with herons, geese and a dozen or so other wild beauties with wings, but I wasn’t quick enough to snap them all.

Heron on the look out.

The weather also gave me something to think about. When I started the walk, it was cloudy, then sunny and bitterly cold. After walking the first mile, the hail came down. Half way through the second mile, the rain started, but by the time I reached my destination, five miles down the path beside the canal, the sun was out again and the temperature was up.

The locks on the canal are always mesmerizing. It’s the sound that gets me. And then the perpetual motion of the water.

First Lock

It draws you in and hypnotises you, even if your nose is getting frost bite.  After a good ten minutes in a water induced coma, it was onwards to cross the bridge. Sadly, there were no billy goats and no trolls beneath. So on I walked, passing a solitary bench, its seat full of memories of bottoms past, perched peacefully while eating sandwiches or drinking pop. Ah, those lazy hazy days of summer…

Now I need the loo. The path stretches into the distance. Where is the wonderful cafe I’ve been told about? A place of sanctuary, with excellent coffee, large slices of chocolate cake and loos? I trudge onward. I am the only human left on the planet. The hail stones start to fall. Will I be found frozen stiff by the next lock? When I reach Lock 2, the rushing water has the desired effect. I cannot see or hear anything anymore!

Heaven is near!My bladder is screaming for relief. Then, just as I begin to sprint, panting and wondering if I should disrobe there and then and attempt to pee into the canal, (there is a rubber ring on a wooden stand near the waters edge, but if I fall in, no one is there to throw it to me!)  The oasis appears! O joy… And there is a fire! And the loos are spotless! And the coffee is amazing!

I sink into a leather sofa and enjoy. The walk back, all five miles of it, is forgotten for the moment…  After a large latte and a huge slice of fruit cakechoc cake is off today – I talk to the waitress and she tells me of her plans to leave England for warmer climes. I tell her about my wonderous walk along the water, leaving out the bit about needing the loo, of course.  She is unconvinced. She is eighteen and sees only the wet, cold, dank countryside outside. She chatters on about Australia and New Zealand while I listen and wonder if she has a point. The hail is coming down in bucketfulls. I can hear it hitting the windows with a spiteful intensity. It’s after me. It’s bitter out there and I’m not eighteen. I must be mad. But then, suddenly the hail cloud passes over and the sky is blue again. A wintry sun appears and send gold beams across the water…  I put on my coat and say goodbye to the young adventurer. I have five miles to walk back to my car. I must brave the rain, sleet, hail and a freezing wind that has just decided to send me almost cart-wheeling past several puzzled ducks.

Best foot forward. My step on the homeward journey is slower because I am weighed down by cake and coffee and it gives me time to think about all the beauty around me. My bladder holds out and I reach the car with a sense of satisfaction. Whatever the English weather throws at you, there will always be a cafe on the horizon and, if you are lucky you may see a heron. 

The shining…
Sheer magic!
Help!
Forever rambling on...
The Lonely Bench.
Trolls out to lunch?

HOW OLD IS OLD?

Marilyn Monroe film
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It’s a funny thing, getting old.

If you’ve been married and had children and if you are a woman, you reach a certain age when you realize that all those years you invested in other people – your spouse/partner, your kids, your aged parents, your friends – all that time you gave away willingly and with no thought for yourself – where has it got you? You wake up one day and look in the mirror and the person you thought you were has vanished. Looking back at you is someone you don’t recognize. She may be the spitting image of your mother – always a shock, or you may just see an old woman. You never expect to see an old woman, although you know there are a lot of them around. But you? Never.

Inside you, as you gaze amazed at the old biddy blinking back at you, you feel twenty five. Yes, it’s true. Inside you are always younger, sometimes by decades. But no-one else sees that. They may say nice things like: ‘Oh, but you have such a young voice on the phone…’   – meaning that when they meet you in the flesh, they are horrified at the contradiction; young voice, old bag? Very confusing. The best one is: ‘You are as young as you feel!’ That’s usually said by a smug young woman behind the cosmetic counter, when you are on your knees begging for face cream.

Then the time comes for you to deal with your retiring partner/spouse and by retiring, I don’t mean shy. The change that happens to a man’s personality when he stops work is akin to a boxer who’s been beaten to a pulp but refuses to lie down, making everyone within a gnat’s breath of him suffer unbearably at the sight of his pain. And pain it certainly is. There are moods and sulks and depressions and the: ‘What shall I do now?’ syndrome. He starts to walk three steps behind you, looking mournful and rejected on a daily basis. So you wrack your brains to find him things to do, just like you did for your kids when they were bored. You suggest a house make-over. He dutifully follows you around B&Q while you choose the paint. He has no opinion of colour – ‘I don’t mind, dear. Whatever you want is okay by me…‘ he mutters. You chose beige because that’s how you feel.

He paints the sitting room in total silence. He doesn’t want the radio on because it might distract him. He needs to concentrate. After all, he didn’t have the radio on when he was in his office, did he? So your one weakness, Radio 4, is forbidden. A friend rings and invites you over for lunch. O joy! A bit of respite. But he looks at you askance. Going out? What about his lunch? If he’s painting, he can’t be expected to make a sandwich, can he? He has to have you in the house, in case anything goes wrong. What can go wrong? Well, he might not know where to find things. Things? Yes. His wallet. His mobile. His watch. Another paint brush… (Of course, my beloved hubby is nothing like this!)

After a year or so, you drift into a new way of being with this person you were once so comfortable with. You are now living with a retired old age pensioner, who doesn’t want to be a retired old age pensioner. Inside his head, he’s about eighteen. That’s why when you mention the word downsizing, he looks as if you’ve told him you want a sex change. The thought of all the work involved in moving house, when he could be on the golf course is enough to give him a stroke.  And as for sex? At eighteen he didn’t have to work at it. Why should he work at it now? You don’t talk about it, let alone attempt it. That would be too silly. Occasionally, when you feel really angry, you leave a woman’s magazine on his bedside table, with the page open at an article entitled: ‘Sex In Old Age Can Be Wonderful!’  He gets into bed, picks up the magazine, closes it and hands it to you: ‘My, you are getting forgetful, leaving your things on my bedside table. Having a senior moment, were you?’ (Of course, my beloved hubby is NOTHING like this!)

And so the years roll by. You continue to have this anxious feeling that you don’t ‘fit’ anywhere any more. Age Concern coffee morning? No, thank you. Charity shop assistant? No! Church flower arranging? Bugger off!  But this attitude also makes you feel guilty. You should be able to step gracefully into the groove as society expects. You should have extraordinary patience; a sweet disposition, be the perfect granny and the perfect wife to a grumpy, miserable old sod. But the heartburn, the constipation and the aching joints don’t help. It’s all part of those jolly years that take you inexorably closer to your demise. The years that Saga tells you are the best ones, now the kids have gone and the mortgage is paid – full of exciting holidays running across beaches with some handsome, grey-haired bloke who’s dentures never fall out and who never farts in public.

Wake up! The mortgage will never be paid and the kids are back because they can’t afford to buy a house or even rent one. You need a job but they won’t give you one, not because there is any age discrimination, it’s just that you are too old. Hubby/partner talks about getting work, but in truth, he’s getting to like this retired lark because he knows you will continue to run the house and his home life, just as you always did, only now he can enjoy your good works 24/7.

Growing old in the 21st century is stranger than it has ever been. It’s a mass of contradictions, in the media and in society at large. The grey pound is no more, young people find you a bloody nuisance, you are likely to be murdered by the nursing home owner if you get ga-ga and you may have to sell your house to pay for care. Your hard earned pension is shrinking like your best cashmere sweater did when hubby decided to be helpful and wash it in biological powder…  And that’s just for starters. So what’s the solution to handling this strange metamorphosis that happens to us all one day?  No idea. Answers on an Age Concern post card, please.

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS

Christmas tree with presents
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Christmas is a time for thinking. The weather helps. No snow this year but 80 mile an hour winds, thunder and lightning, sleet and torrential rain. Certainly gives you something to think about! Waking up at 3am and hearing all that weather carrying on outside the house made me think about my own relationship with the ‘outside’. By that I mean, how much does what I am thinking about – my mind stuff – influence what is happening outside my head? Okay, now you are thinking that while making the Christmas cake, I swigged the brandy instead of adding it to the mixture. No, I managed to resist, so these thoughts are happening while I am totally sober.

The part of me that feels lonely and frightened usually emerges at three o’clock in the morning. Now, if I were a scientist, I would say that at 3am there is probably a dip in serotonin levels in my brain, hence the panicky feelings. But I’m no Einstein, so I put it down to being part of the human race, as most people experience the 3am panic at some time in their lives, don’t they? It’s in those wee small hours of the morning that I see life as a struggle with me at the centre, fighting against all the cruel, unpredictable and threatening things that could happen in my world. It’s then that I feel under threat from potential hurt, rejection even annihilation. I know that I want to feel loved and connected, but end up planning a battle in my head to right all the wrongs I think have been done to me!

In the grey light of morning, I can rationalise and blame the night terrors on indigestion. But there is something about experiencing those dark nights of the soul that can also make me see the bigger picture. My ego, fragile as it is, seems to want to be a martyr and stray into the prickly land of the victim. Yet, somewhere deep inside me, there is a small but noisy voice saying that in truth, it’s not the way to go.

By fighting wars in my head all the time, I begin to wonder if I am actually attracting the very things that might cause those wars in the real world outside my head? It seems the whole world is engaged in a war of some sort.  There is a ‘war’ against terrorism. A war against poverty. A war against crime and on and on…  By making war part of me, am I making it, along with everybody else, a sort of self-fulfilled prophesy? Now, here you have to be careful. Of course we must fight against poverty and crime. But is it a ‘fight’?  Could there be another, better and more philosophical way to tackle such problems?

By struggling to maintain some inner roadmap of perfection put there by my parents (bless ’em), my teachers, my religion am I missing the point? Am I fighting with myself all the time? And do I get what I think I want? Well actually, no. I am not perfect but inside me is a record that keeps playing, telling me that I should strive to be. Millions of women are listening to that record at this time of year. It’s telling them that they must get Christmas right for their families; they must find and buy all the right gifts, make the money work, remember to buy all the right food and cook it perfectly and make everything ‘lovely!’ In addition to this, they must also shift the usual sulkyness that hangs over a family when they are all trying hard to ‘enjoy’ themselves, because that’s what everyone says you must do at this time of year. Although you may get the logistics right, there is absolutely no guarantee that the vision you have in your head, similar to all those adverts on TV about wonderful family Christmases, will become reality. But not to worry. Perhaps the satisfaction comes from trying and not from succeeding? Perhaps it comes from a realisation that I can’t, after all be a hero all the time?

Christmas is a time of great stress and pressure to conform to a media created image of what we ‘should’ all be. It is largely driven by consumerism. If we don’t shop till we drop, we are made to think we are being spoil-sports. Even when families are likely to get into debt, they are still encouraged to buy more stuff, more food, more rubbish than they need. We are the cogs in the wheels that keep the engine ticking over. If we stop consuming, the engine will stop. But since the bankers took all the fuel, the engine is spluttering and likely to die anyway.

Celebrating this holiday is nothing to do with spending money or religion, is it? When I stop listening to my inner voice that keeps yelling at me to conform, will I finally be freed up to create a different reality for myself and to make it happen? That reality is about reaching out to those I love through giving them my time and attention, not the biggest present I can buy, surely?  And I’m damned if I am going to feel guilty about this new approach to the festive season. Feeling guilty means that I have to be in conflict with myself. It means that I’ll be drained of energy and any potential to grow is very likely to be suppressed. So guilt can go into the trash along with shopping! But I will give gifts to those I care about. Of course I will. But it won’t be a mindless action, forcing me to comply with external pressures. I want to make my Christmas one that will be about the bigger picture.

One of the hardest things about getting older is accepting that there are fewer and fewer people left who knew you when you were young. It’s like looking in the mirror and seeing no reflection. So if the only way you can be seen once you’ve passed the forty barrier is as an old biddy, then what is the point in hanging onto all those inner rules and regulations that say you have to reach some internal standard put there by someone else? Do I really have to walk on my knees?

So this year, instead of squandering my energy on spending money I haven’t got,  I am also not buying any fear, blame, criticism, jealousy – in fact any of the million negative emotions that are on offer and lurk in the hidden corners of the mind. This year, I will stop the war. This year I will imagine something different and maybe make it real. This year, I will change my inner vision of Christmas and by doing that, I will perhaps change the outer one?

Happy Christmas.

NEEDS MUST MAKE US EMOTIONAL

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings
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Are the British really unemotional? Is that stiff upper lip stuff really true? And if you express your emotions, are you just making a fuss?

Emotions are an intrinsic part of our intelligence. Without them, we would be strange creatures, indeed! Emotions are a set of sign posts we all carry inside us. They evolved over millions of years and they make us human. If our needs are not being met, it is our emotions that flag this up. So, when we experience feelings of rejection and loneliness, our emotions are  telling us that something is amiss. Our emotions give us information about how we are feeling. If emotional connections are not working, even simple decisions are difficult to make. You have to be able to know how you will feel if you make choices. Emotions help you to do that.

When someone makes us feel unhappy or uncomfortable, our emotions tell us so. If we are healthy emotionally, we will be able to set boundaries and express ourselves in a manner that will help us to protect ourselves. Emotions are also vital to the way we communicate. Our expressions illustrate our emotions moment by moment. Facial expressions communicate to others how we feel inside, so if we look sad or distressed, others can see we need help. If we can also express those feelings verbally, we are more likely to find the help we need. Being in touch with our own emotions can also help us respond to the needs of others.

So how do you know what you are feeling? When you feel happy, you know it!  Your emotions tell you that you are happy. So the better you understand your emotions, the easier it will be for you to understand yourself and to know what it is that makes you happy. Your emotions will tell you.  In a world that is full of conflict caused by religion or political ideology,what can unite us?  Empathy, compassion, forgiveness and cooperation can. Our religious and political beliefs divide us, but maybe it is our emotions that can bring us together?

When the riots happened here in the UK last August, much was made of the fact that the young people who were rioting came from dysfunctional families. But it is unlikely that those kids were going hungry. They had homes and were wearing clothes. They weren’t running naked and hungry through the streets, stealing televisions and trainers. You can give children all the material stuff they say they want, but if their emotional needs are not being met, then they will never be content.

Humans all have emotional needs. We all need to feel excepted and respected. But the difference in how we express those needs, shows that we are not all the same. Some of us need more freedom than others. Some of us need more security than others. But the base line is the same. We all need to have our emotional needs understood and validated by others. If this delicate balance is not understood as kids are growing up, they may feel frustrated and behave badly. Our schools tend to focus on getting children through exams.  They are on a conveyor belt and individualism is not encouraged. Kids reaching their teens can become withdrawn and cut themselves off  if their unique personalities are not encouraged and their needs met. If they are bored at school and live in a home where parents are also out of touch with them emotionally through neglect or abuse – physical or emotional, then the outcome may be what we saw last August in London.

A lack of understanding of the emotional life we all hold inside ourselves leads to much unhappiness. If emotions are repressed from an early age, we can find showing empathy  to others almost impossible. The stiff upper lip does nobody any favours. That’s not to say that spewing out your emotions whenever you feel like it, is a good idea. There has to be some measure of control and that balance can only come from insight and probably from parents who expressed and validated their own feelings and emotions appropriately. But we are not able to choose our parents, so we have to make the best of it. That is why our education system has to wise up and become much more aware of how emotions work and how crucial they are to education and ultimately, to a happy and fulfilled life.



STICKS AND STONES

The following article came from a website : Credits: Pauline D. Ruthrauff . Thank you.

Unkind words hurt and can do a lot of emotional damage. The old adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” is simply NOT true. Most of us know that words can and do hurt. This article will teach you how to manage verbal abuse, protect your self-esteem, and even feel some compassion for the abuser.Knowing that words hurt is one thing; finding a way to manage the verbal abuse to reduce the hurt to a minimum level is quite another. After many years of raising troubled foster children who were both subjected to and perpetrators of verbal abuse, I developed a plan to help me manage the abuse. A plan must be utilized in order to limit emotional injury or the caregiver simply burns out and the child moves on to yet another placement. The negative effects of multiple placements on children is well documented in the literature. Another very important benefit of successfully managing verbal abuse is preventing the altercation from escalating into a physical battle. Most physical abuse/violence begins with verbal battling. Stopping it at that point can save immeasurable hurt.

I have been called some of the filthiest names you can imagine. Every once in a while I even get called a new name that I never heard before. Some of the worst verbal abuse directed toward me came from a young man with moderate mental retardation. He could not form more than about a three-word sentence, but he could go on and on with verbal abuse. He would say the same foul word over and over again, and just add a different word after it. Abusive language is not limited by intelligence, but the smarter the child, the more creative the abuse often becomes. No matter what kind of verbal abuse is directed toward me, I now handle all of it the same way.

There are five steps in my verbal abuse management plan.

They are as follows:

1. Keep the emotion out.

2. Set limits.

3. Impose consequences.

4. Model good behavior.

5. Stick to your plan.

The first step is the hardest one. Keeping calm and dealing rationally with another person’s unacceptable language is very difficult. Abusive language can be very powerful, very offensive, and can cause an almost knee-jerk, negative reaction on the part of the receiver. These impulsive reactions usually have poor to disastrous consequences.The way that I keep my emotions under control is by forcing myself to concentrate on something else rather than allowing myself to react to the hurtful words. I have practiced my method for many years and it is now automatic for me. As soon as I get the first abusive word, I tell myself, “Get a paper and pencil.” I command myself to get it NOW! The most important thing in the world for me at that moment is getting a pencil and paper and recording what was said. I cannot process how hurtful the words are while doing something constructive. I then write the name of the abuser, date, time, and what was said. By following this step to the letter, I concentrate so hard on doing a good job of documentation that I cannot react to the hurt and lose control of my emotions.Believe me, I am made out of the same stuff as everyone else and words do hurt, sometimes terribly. I know that I will have to deal with the hurt at some point, but during the crisis is not the time. There will be plenty of time later to process the words and make appropriate decisions about what to do about the abuse. If you are able to control your emotions, the rest of these steps will probably be relatively easy to follow.Here are some other tips to help control your emotions by giving yourself something else to do. Force yourself to carefully record the facts. Record just the facts. Ask for clarification if you did not hear the words clearly. Ask the abuser how to spell a word that you never heard of before or if you are not familiar with the spelling. Ask how many times an abusive words was used if the abuser is speaking very rapidly and you lost track of the number of times a word was said. I will never forget the time that I calmly looked at an abuser and said, “Wait a minute. You’re going too fast. How many times did you call me an MFer.” The abuser, an adolescent, was shocked. When he saw that his words were having no negative effect on me and that I was carefully recording all of the facts to report to the proper authorities, he totally lost his momentum in the battle. It is hard for an abuser to keep going when he/she is not getting the desired effect, usually hurt and shock. Sometimes an abuser stops immediately when you say, “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to spell that word. Would you spell it for me please.” Again his/her train of thought is interrupted, and he/she can see that the intended effect is just not happening. Abuse does not always stop this easily, but when it does, count your blessings. Remember, deal with the facts–just the facts–deal with your feelings later.The next step is to set limits. This step can be accomplished as soon as the abuser settles down a bit and is willing to listen. Explain the consequences of his/her behavior. A consequence at our house is a 10-minute timeout sitting at the picnic table following any verbal abuse. We want to teach acceptable behaviors, so it is better for consequences to be mild and frequent rather than severe and infrequent providing that that abuser is responding positively to the interventions.It is also important to clarify your tolerance limit and give plenty of reminders as to what it is. Some people can handle a great deal of verbal abuse without taking it personally and others cannot. You need to know your limit and clearly convey it to the abuser. No one can read your mind. Many abusers have learned to use verbal abuse in their normal conversations. They do not know the tolerance limits of others. It is your responsibility to clearly set the limit.There are many ways to set limits. You might say, “We agreed that you would have a 10-minute timeout each time that you use bad language, so please go to your timeout spot now.” Or you might say, “If you talk to me that way again, I will ask that you be removed from my home.” Or perhaps, “It is illegal for you to use that kind of language in my presence, and I will press charges against you if you do it again.”

It is important for you to set limits in advance and follow through with the consequences. In order to be effective, you must know the laws in your state in addition to knowing your own limits.There are laws forbidding abuse. Check your state’s laws to determine the difference between annoying behavior and illegal behavior. In PA where I live, the Child Protective Services Law protects children from all forms of abuse. The Pennsylvania Crimes Code is quite clear regarding when unacceptable language is illegal. Abusive language can justify charges for such crimes as harassment, and disorderly conduct. Your state’s crimes code determines how your state handles such matters.The third step is to impose consequences. This step goes hand in hand with limit setting. Once the limit is set, the abuser has a choice about whether to continue with abusive behavior. If he/she continues, be sure to follow through with the consequences. It is so important to follow through with consequences after setting limits. If you say to a child, “If you do that again, I will not take you roller skating on Friday evening, and the child does it again, make sure he/she does not go roller skating on Friday. If you back down, your credibility goes right down the drain along with your authority.Children need limits. They often crave limits. They need responsible adults to teach them what is right and wrong. Adults need limits, too. Unfortunately, many children reach adulthood without learning what is acceptable and what is not. They never learned how to follow rules and set their own limits. It then becomes the responsibility of those around them and the criminal justice system to set the limits for them.The fourth step is to model good behavior. When children have good modeling, they learn acceptable behaviors simply by living. When they do not have good modeling, others in society often need to develop some sort of behavior shaping plan to teach acceptable behavior.Setting a good example is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child. Never underestimate the power of being a good role model.My husband and I have raised many foster children, many of whom came into our home with very bad language. They do not hear bad language in our home. Often, their own bad language just subsides on its own with no intervention needed, other than a few reminders. Not all children are that easy to change, of course, so other intervention strategies are needed. Regardless of what is being done to shape behavior in a more positive direction, the fact remains that modeling good behavior is one of the most important tools to use.

All people generally respond better to praise than criticism. When a child is accustomed to using bad language, it often works well to teach them how to express themselves in a more positive way and then praise them when they do it right the next time. Children often are not taught how to express anger, disappointment, hurt, and so on without using a string of foul words. If you teach them how to expand their vocabularies and express their feelings in a more acceptable way, you will help them in more ways than just behavior control. Good language skills will help them in all areas of their lives.The last step is stick to your plan.

Whatever plan you use, be aware that unacceptable behaviors do not go away overnight. In fact, they usually get worse before they get better. The reason is because these behaviors were acquired because they were self-serving, and when they no longer work, the person steps up his/her efforts to make them work prior to acquiescing to any sort of behavior shaping modality. Many children and adults have used verbal abuse for many years and it has become a way of life. If you want to help a child who uses abusive language, consult with a counselor, behavior specialist, psychiatrist, or anyone else that you believe might be able to help you develop a behavior shaping plan. If an adult uses abusive language towards you, set limits immediately. If possible, just stay away from them. On-going verbal abuse is very damaging to the self-esteem. Protect yourself from it, and, if possible, help the abuser in the process.

Credits: Pauline D. Ruthrauff

WHY DO WE ACCEPT ABUSIVE BEHAVIOUR AND LANGUAGE?

How much do we really care about children in the UK? The stats for domestic violence make sobering reading.

Sadly, most domestic violence also includes emotional abuse. Children who are subjected to a tirade of foul language and verbal abuse grow up seeing this behaviour as normal. Emotional abuse is a battering of the mind. The outcomes are serious and dangerous. Children subjected to emotionally abusive interaction between adults can become desensitized  and never learn the meaning of the word respect.

Emotional abuse can include destructive criticism, name calling, sulking, prolonged silences. There can be pressure for the abused person to comply at all times with the wishes of the abuser. Lying to the victim and to their friends and family is another tactic used by emotional abusers, as is putting you down in front of others. Never listening to you or responding when you talk is emotionally abusive. Checking up on your movements, your phone calls, emails and texts is also abusive. To isolate someone from their friends and family and prevent you from going out alone is also emotionally abusive.

Although this type of behaviour can occur in front of children, it is not a crime, so it is very difficult to get protection or to be taken seriously when you ask for help. This is quite wrong in my opinion. We live in a culture where verbal abuse is all around us. Watching Jeremy Clarkson on The One Show the other night made me cringe. He is a person in the public eye who presumably wants respect from his audiences?  Yet his language was disrespectful, crass and mindless. Whatever way you look at it, and how ever many times he makes half-hearted apologies for his remarks, it illustrates how easy it is to be verbally abusive to a huge audience and expect to be ‘understood’ by excusing it as a joke. Many of The One Show’s audience will have been children. Clarkson will probably have been a hero to some of them. Sad.

Teaching children to use good language skills to negotiate their way through life seems to be disappearing. So many children are subject to abusive and emotionally damaging language and behaviour within their homes and nothing can be done about it. It’s also reflected on television and on the street. To speak out against it makes you appear old-fashioned and not cool.

Resorting to using abusive language and emotionally abusive behaviour to express yourself means that you are limited, very limited indeed.  Your kids will be limited too. That really is sad.

From the Women’s Aid website – http://www.womensaid.org.uk/

Criminologists (1) estimate that domestic violence statistics are 140% higher than those stated in the British Crime Survey, which only records a maximum of five crimes per person.

Jackie Barron, Research & Policy Officer at Women’s Aid said:  

“Domestic violence is characterised by a pattern of repeated abuse by the same perpetrator. It s only when repeated incidents are reported and recorded that a complete picture of the extent of domestic abuse becomes more evident.”
Also, many victims of domestic violence are reluctant to disclose the abuse they have experienced in face to face interviews.  Nonetheless, BCS data are the best we currently have.”  


Women’s Aid think that capping the number of crimes reported at five is particularly likely to underestimate domestic violence statistics for the following reasons:

  • Domestic violence is characterised by a pattern of repeated abuse by the same perpetrator. It is only when repeated incidents are reported and recorded that a complete picture of the extent of domestic abuse becomes more evident. 
  • Domestic violence includes many different kinds of abuse, not only physical assaults: for example, psychological abuse – such as repeatedly criticising someone or putting them down, isolating them and not letting them see their friends or family; financial abuse – such as not allowing them to have any money of their own or insisting they account for every penny they spend; and sexual abuse – which could include such things as forcing them to watch pornographic videos. 
  • Many of those who experience domestic violence may not see these behaviours as crimes (and some of them are in fact not crimes). 
  • Many victims of domestic violence are reluctant to disclose the abuse they have experienced in face to face interviews. When the BCS has used a self-completion module (2), the reported rates of abuse are up to five times higher (3). The failure by the BCS to record more than 5 incidents in any one year further contributes to a serious underestimation of the prevalence of domestic violence. 
  • Nonetheless, BCS data are the best we currently have – but we would like to see a repeat of the IPV self-completion module in future years, so a true comparison can be made.
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