Therapy Digest 11
Mothers are usually motivated to do things for the good of their children or that is the case if we grow up in a happy and nurturing household. Sometimes mothers get distracted and focus on issues that are not core to developmental wellbeing. I take a look at this below plus what is the definition of a Sh*t Life – lack of connection plays a big part in that.
The Curse of Pretty versus The Pretty Premium
Mothers have been passionately debating on social media whether it is harmful to their young daughter’s emotional development to praise them or not for looking pretty.
Their well-meaning concern is in part because they acknowledge how all-pervasive the media is at objectifying girls, and increasingly boys, who may be influenced to measure their self-worth by how attractive they look.
In this visually obsessed world of smoke and mirrors where young models and celebrities regularly undergo surgical enhancements and have perfect body physiques, impressionable young people can feel intensely dissatisfied with their own bodies. All of this is aided and abetted by the photoshopped images and Instagram filters that distort and remake reality as something unrecognisable.
The bar can seem to be set unimaginably high for mere mortals. This feels especially true in the UK after this summer’s obsession with ITV2 television’s Love Island series. Buff young men and beautiful young women contestants paraded around daily in designer swimwear in a Spanish villa retreat. It was the fourth series of the show but the first to capture the imagination of so many people with record audience figures of 14-year-old girls upwards glued nightly to each episode of its eight-week run.
One of Love Island’s most high profile contestants, a young woman in her early twenties called Megan Barton Hanson reportedly underwent over 25K of plastic surgery procedures to enhance her appearance.
Some of the same mothers debating whether to praise their daughters as pretty or not were also worried that Megan had made mainstream the idea of submitting to a knife if they were not completely happy with how they looked.
I think all of these concerns need to be viewed on a spectrum with women like Megan at one extreme. She has chosen to follow a particularly competitive, glamour-model career path that puts an almost exclusive emphasis on how one looks.
I’m sure the kind of investment in cosmetic enhancement she has made is also part of the territory, and her successful competition in her field will have probably made similar investments to improve their looks.
It should also be recognised that a glamour model career has a steep but short trajectory so that financial investment is probably essential to maximise a limited period of time as a high earner before they are supplanted by the next surgically perfected creature to catch the media’s attention.
It doesn’t mean that the extremes of surgery these young women are willing to endure to reach their career goals are normalised so that all women would do the same if they were able to meet the high costs.
We can trust that women are as diverse in their looks as they are in their ambitions and aspirations and it comes down to more than being told if they’re pretty or not while growing up.
Some mothers are adamant that they won’t tell their daughter they are pretty at all and avoid doing so at all cost.
Marina Fogle, a mother of two was reported in the UK press as one such mum who has decided she will never tell her daughter she is pretty. She wants to only emphasise her daughter’s abilities, not her looks and she said she struggles with how to respond when people praise her daughter for being pretty.
Unfortunately, that awkwardness will speak volumes to her young daughter, and even with the best of intentions, it would be healthier and a more honest reaction just to say ‘Thank you’ for the compliment and change the subject or move swiftly on.
Never alluring to any physical attributes and not telling your daughter she is pretty or your boy child is handsome is an omission and omissions have a way of conspicuously showing up as imbalances.
Making an effort to have something remain unsaid can result in giving it more emphasis. It becomes amplified in its absence until it is akin to a silent cri de cour.
It can also set up for a child a desperate ‘holy grail’ search for affirmation. This stance has the potential to be as psychologically harmful as making physical attractiveness the only attribute that a parent ever praises their children for having.
Some other mothers who are in favour of acknowledging how pretty their daughters happen to be also try hard to balance praising their child’s physical appearance with praise for other personality bases attribute such as kindness, or courage or athleticism.
They attempt to praise in smarter ways that acknowledge and appreciate their off-springs qualities beyond just the superficial.
However, it would be naive not to acknowledge there is a ‘pretty premium’ in society today too. It is well documented that those who are deemed beautiful women or handsome men are given greater opportunities in the workplace, more leniency in the courts of law and more often win the hearts of higher status partners than their plainer looking cohort.
In an attempt to rebalance society’s obsession with how everyone looks it makes sense to praise a young girls’ qualities and achievements instead of just their outward appearance. It’s also vital that young girls be encouraged to use their bodies to run, jump and climb and to facilitate them being active and confident in their physical abilities and not just someone who is superficially good looking.
For my clients, both men and women, it was growing up and never being allowed to express what they were told were ‘ugly’ or unacceptable emotions that have caused them the most enduring confusion and harm.
To have been raised in a family where they were only ever allowed to be compliant and never allowed to express any negative emotions is a burden beyond being told if you’re pretty or not.
To be a young child who always fears the threat of having parental approval unceremoniously removed can make growing up feel as though it’s on shifting sands. The child who is constantly chided for displaying their own emotional needs can only avoid feeling unsafe by disconnecting from their emotions and many adopt shutting down and disassociation as a survival strategy when they feel they are powerless to do anything else.
Pretty or not children often don’t get the parenting they need to grow to be resilient and develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. If any of this resonates with you then you can reach out and book an obligation free call with me. The link is on this page.
What is Sh*t Life Syndrome?
Some time ago Journalist Sarah O’Conner wrote a piece for the UK’s Financial Times Newspaper that explored the multiple overlapping problems that people face living in Blackpool, England.
In this economically depressed part of the country, a combination of economic, historic, social and cultural factors all combine to make life harder and harder for people for whom life was already hard.
She referenced a phrase sometimes used by General Practitioners, the local neighbourhood doctors, called ‘Shit life syndrome, ‘ (SLS).
The medical professional has always valued an abbreviation especially one that can sum up something so overwhelming and pervasive that it has no ready cure.
A century ago, NFN (Normal For Norfolk) initials would be written on some patients medical records in the East Anglia County of England to allude to illnesses or disorders suspected to be the result of incest.
It is hoped that those particular initials are no longer ever needed and certainly would not have stood the test of political correctness. Equally nor has GFS (Good Fen Stock) the GP’s other favourite abbreviation that meant the same diagnosis.
SLS is not a new term but neither is it in the list of conditions taught in medical school. It is a contemporary phrase of the 21st Century used in a first world affluent country to make a diagnosis even in these times of ‘woke’ awareness.
GP’s use the initials to refer to issues that are not wholly medical, but which fill up their surgeries nonetheless. They are used, to sum up a situation where an individual has so many challenges that even finding a foothold to begin to make positive changes is impossible with so many other, remaining factors pulling them down and keeping them stuck.
UK’s National Health Service (NHS) Doctor Phil Cumberlidge has worked in Liverpool’s Vauxhall Primary Health Care practice for ten years.
He believes Sh*t Life Syndrome is a problem society is all too quick to medicate with anti-depressants instead of trying to make the enduring but much more challenging and expensive interventions that are needed.
He said that some days at work are for him like being in an episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show, a UK reality TV show similar to Jerry Springer’s original infamous US TV programme.
He said that as a doctor you would expect to need to know a bit of medicine to get by, but that he often he feels powerlessness in knowing how to help his patients.
This could be due to a serious untreatable medical condition, although sometimes it’s because the patient has a problem that medicine cannot help.
Over the last ten years, working in general practice, Dr Cumberlidge has noticed a sharp increase in the number of people coming in to see him with what can best be described as ‘Sh*t Life Syndrome (SLS).’
So what exactly is SLS?
Cumberlidge said ‘It’s not in any of my textbooks and I cannot remember where I first heard it used. Perhaps it is best explained by giving examples.’
‘Imagine being a single parent after finally getting away from your abusive alcoholic boyfriend. Your baby is unwell and frequently in the hospital. You have no family support. No money. Your flat is surrounded by drug users and alcoholics. Or how about being middle-aged, losing your job, your partner and your house all within six months?’
Living a sh*t life
‘Sounds shit?’ He asks. ‘Try living it. So when she comes to see you distressed, unhappy and not wanting to get out of bed you can hardly blame her.’
‘The easy answer would be: she’s depressed, give her some medication or counselling but that isn’t going to change her environment or lack of support.’
‘In truth though, antidepressants are not the answer, but you can feel helpless to do otherwise and end up medicalising someone’s shit life. As a GP, you need to sometimes realise your limitations too. You cannot cure everyone with a pill.’
So what can GPs do?
Dr Cumberlidge says, ‘Sometimes we can signpost to other services or support in the community but often as doctors we just try to be the person that our patient can talk to without judgement.’
The doctor continued, ‘You would be amazed how lonely people can be, even in a big city. Perhaps most people would think to confide in their family but you would be amazed how many people I see who haven’t even spoken to their partners or family about their troubles.’
One thing about the Jeremy Kyle style show is that he gets people talking about their problems and sometimes shouting and fighting, too.
Perhaps previous generations would have confided more in their friends, workmates or even someone in their church but that doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
Despite all the plethora of choice in ways of communicating with each other and the ever increasing number of social media platforms what is actually happening is that we are we more detached, disconnected and disassociated from each other.
Life can be shit and sometimes being a GP means putting away the pills and being a substitute friend, parent or even priest.
And, what can we do as standard people out in our own communities to connect with people overwhelmed with the challenges in their lives?
We can make connection especially with people from our own family we have lost contact with and if that isn’t a positive move for you then reach out to people in your wider community and make contact there instead.
We may not know people who live sh*t lives but we probably do know people who live lives of quiet desperation and we can make contact and reach out.
A recognised foundation of mental well being is identified time and time again as a connection. The importance of feeling connected to others improves health outcomes and extends life expectancy so even as we reach out to others we are working on improving our own mental well being too so its a win, win.
If you are feeling lost and overwhelmed then use the link on this page to book an obligation free discovery call and we can look at how you can improve your mental well being. I look forward to your call.
Sally Baker is Senior Therapist, published Author and Speaker in private practice in London for face to face sessions and the world over via the internet.
With almost twenty years of professional experience, she employs cutting-edge therapeutic approaches to help one person at a time to transform their lives.
She has extensive experience working with people to alleviate their anxiety, depression, anger issues, eating disorders as well as conflicts within relationships and the family.
To find out more about Sally Baker, her books and her work visit her website, www.workingonthebody.com