Elisa A Escalante/ LCSW/ 3-10-2021
This topic frequently comes up. All across the world, those that suffer from mental illness get bombarded with “practical” advice that unfortunately cannot help their debilitating chronic symptoms. People may mean well, but if they use these punchlines, they may not understand what suffering with a chronic mental illness entails.
Below I list some very common lines, tips and life advice that are frequently given out by the general public. The lines, along with why it may not help the sufferer of specific mental illnesses.
Why is this so important? There’s a good chance that a person suffering from anxiety, depression, ptsd, adhd, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders etc has already been spoon fed these lines their whole life to a point it caused serious frustration and isolation from those around them. Suffering is hard, but when we feel the world around us cannot or will not try to understand, it makes it all the more difficult. Read below for more:
Some people, quite literally, cannot access positivity. Things that often cause positivity to become inaccessible to the brain include: childhood trauma/ emotional & physical abuse/ exposure to domestic violence/ low self worth/ major depression/ pessimistic modeling.
Therapy, coping, reframing, and self care tactics are often needed before someone can gain self acceptance – the stage before self love. It takes a very healthy amount of self acceptance before someone can start to access positivity. There’s also a biological component! Just how much dopamine and serotonin can our brains actually produce naturally without a drug assisting? It all depends on the individual, their nature and nurture components factoring throughout their lifetime.
“Calorie count! Weigh yourself! Eat less! Workout more! Paleo! No carbs!”
For Eating disordered individuals, Numbers, and forbidden food lists are highly triggering and can often set them back to engaging in destructive eating disordered behaviors. This may include: restricting or upping caloric intake to dangerous levels, constant weighing, excessive exercise, body dysmorphic cognitions, intrusive thoughts of worthlessness, binging/ purging behaviors to “counter balance” where they “failed” in their ‘diet’.
Nutritionists are all over the social media world, and they are delivering very good information across many platforms. The general public tends to share and repeat lifestyle changes and dieting advice. Unbeknownst to many, we are triggering eating disordered individuals. I must emphasize, diet plans and number counting will NEVER work for eating disordered individuals and will often trigger them into more self destructive patterns. An eating disorder requires specialized training/ clinical skills that the average person does not possess.
“Just calm down, relax”
Panic disorders & anxiety/ Obsessive compulsive disorders are mental conditions that are not only in “the mind” but also physiological in nature. The body feels anxiety and panic just as much as the mind does. It’s a vicious cycle and once triggered into panic, can take hours to wind down.
The age old advice or “Calm down” , “chill”, “relax” cannot work because again, the body is also physiologically in panic. These physiological panic symptoms include: rapid heart beat, jitteriness, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, changes in body temperature etc. These symptoms often require deep breathing, guided imagery, distractor methods and engaging the frontal lobe of the brain to calm the amygdala.
As the body deals with these panic responses, the mind has another battle to endure: the vicious cycle of unhealthy defense mechanisms and cognitions that lead to more anxiety/ panic. Cognitions: “What if?” “This could happen” “this has happened before” “I or we’re doomed”. Defense mechanisms: catastrophizing, magnifying, avoidance. The anxious mind has many barriers and obstacles to counter before it can self sooth/ calm.
“You have to love yourself first”
Complex ptsd in childhood leads to an ill mind that cannot access self love. If love and nurturance are not taught/ modeled by a primary caregiver in childhood, the developing brain will often go the opposite route: toward self destructive tendencies and negative cognitions/ feelings of worthlessness/ overall pessimism. Telling an abused/ abandoned/ neglected/ traumatized child to self love is like telling a fish to breath oxygen.
I will quote the great Dr Bruce Perry (child psychiatrist author of ‘The Boy who was raised as a Dog’) on this topic:
“For years mental health professionals taught people that they could be psychologically healthy without social support, that “unless you love yourself, no one else will love you.”…The truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation”
Most likely, complex ptsd from childhood cannot access self love and must engage in lengthy therapy to begin the healing process before they can gain the tools necessary to engage in proper self care & healthy coping tools. This takes a lot more time than most would care to admit or want to accept.
“Other people have it worse”
Our mental health / emotional well being does NOT improve with the knowledge that others may have it worse somewhere in the world. This statement has never worked since the beginning of time, yet it’s a familiar go to template for those that are uncomfortable sitting with someone in their misfortunes/ misery. Let’s consider, instead, that grief, sadness, anxiety, anger etc are all emotions that we will have throughout our lifetime, and to negate or cover them up is what truly destroys us.
If we’re reminded (which we already know) that others “have it worse” will it take away our current tragedy? Such as a loss, a trauma, a symptom, a trigger response? NO! When you push this line on a sufferer, you are practically encouraging their silence. You’re pushing them to sweep their crucial emotions post stressor/ trauma/ grief under a rug.
The consequence of disrupting emotional processing leads to a build up of confusion, resentment, psychological numbing, decreased intuition, and rage. The lesson? Let a person hurt when they hurt, where they hurt. It may or may not make sense to you, but a person feels what they feel. Feelings, unlike opinions, cannot be argued or tampered with. They are what they are, and they will always bleed through the rug.
One thought on “Cool feedback, but, wrong person…”
I have heard a few of those lines. Your right they don’t always help.
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