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In Praise of Repression

December 7, 2014

Psychology, Therapy

Repression

I once attended a Jungian workshop and found myself uncharacteristically emoting in front of a roomful of strangers. In retrospect I was probably just acting out what was expected of me as I usually have a rather British ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude to expressing feelings. I recognize, however, that this attitude has long since been on its way out, having received a virtual knock-out blow from the death of Princess Diana in 1997. After this virtually everyone became convinced that the way to get rid of anxiety was to talk about one’s feelings. Now, I’m all for talking about stuff, but personally, when it comes to traumatic events, I think bottling things up and repressing one’s feelings is often a much better idea. Think about it. Why would you want to relive painful experiences and unpleasant emotions? Surely it’s much better to try and forget them as soon as possible.

There is some evidence to support this view. A study done by H.J. Eysenck in 1952 found that psychotherapy helped no more than the slow passing of time (the profession definitely wishes this one would go away). Following the events of September 11, 2001, some 9,000 therapists descended on the scene, more than three therapists for every victim. The result, according to trauma researcher and community psychologist, Richard Gist, is that counseling not only failed to help the survivors, but in some cases re-traumatized them. Dr. Karni Ginsburg, who led an Israeli study on 116 patients who received hospital treatment for a serious heart-attack and anxiety over their near-miss with death, concluded that “People who keep a stiff upper lip and do not dwell on their feelings tend to cope better with post-traumatic stress.”

Why might repression work? Some researchers have suggested that counseling by therapists could cut victims off from the everyday support of family and friends. Counseling may also make victims feel their reactions of shock and grief are abnormal because they need professional care, which may make it more difficult to get back to normal life. Furthermore, people who successfully repress don’t end up seeing a therapist. For all we know the repressors are actually the normal ones, effectively coping with the many tragedies of life by minimizing them, denying them or distracting themselves. The Stoics realized long ago that we should only be concerned about what we can control rather than what we can’t, and that much of our unhappiness is caused by confusing the two categories, thinking we have control over something which ultimately we do not. Possibly repressors are better at recognizing what they lack control over and so avoiding many of the negative emotions associated with traumatic events.

If you are uptight and anal retentive, a little therapy might do you good, but for the rest, faced with a traumatic event, just grit your teeth, lie down and think of England!

___________________

“It was part of war; men died, more would die, that was past, and what mattered now was the business in hand; those who lived would get on with it. Whatever sorrow was felt, there was no point in talking or brooding about it, much less in making, for form’s sake, a parade of it. Better and healthier to forget it, and look to tomorrow.

The celebrated British stiff upper lip, the resolve to conceal emotion which is not only embarrassing and useless, but harmful, is just plain common sense” ― George MacDonald Fraser, ‘Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II’

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill

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87 Comments on “In Praise of Repression”

  1. nicciattfield Says:

    Interesting outlook. It may be that trauma survivors get worse before they get better with counseling…or that talking through a situation which had massive impact wasn’t enough. I know that in SA, people found that the TRC wasn’t enough, because there was no material impact or restitution and so there was no real sense of justice.

    Trauma Response very often passes after three months anyway, where PTSD lasts longer, so that may be why a lot of people get better after a little bit of time.

    I remember reading once about healers from Rwanda who were baffled and frustrated by western counselors who ‘sat in the dark and spoke about terrible things’ with people who suffered. ‘Why?” the healers wanted to know. When there has been tradgedy, they said, it is important to take people out into the light, to drum, dance, have stories and movement, so that people can feel the light and the energy return to them. They were so astonished by the western healers, they believed they had to ‘ask them to leave’.

    And yet, I know I benefited from counselling after trauma…it helped me to be more objective. Like everything though, I am sure what works for one person doesn’t work for another.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful responses. While you may have a point about the timing of improvements it easy to overlook the fact that given enough of it, “time heals all wounds”. That’s a wonderful story about the Rwanda healers and emphasizes Michele’s point that what’s important is not the event itself but the perspective we have about it. We can choose to focus on the negative past or on the positive future, it’s up to us. But yes, a common thread among the comments is “different strokes for different folks” and I have to agree with that.

      Reply

  2. johnrchildress Says:

    As usual, Malcolm, an issue dealt with thoughtfully. I always enjoy your reality-based view of life. Keep them coming.

    Reply

  3. matt Says:

    While I’m no longer a fan of the “Keep Calm” propaganda poster since it’s been over-comercialised, it couldn’t have come from any other country. I think the emphasis on expressive emoting leads people toward this sense of entitlement we see in society now.

    Reply

  4. Michele Seminara Says:

    Makes a lot of sense, Malcolm. I suppose that focusing on what happened isn’t as much of an issue as what perspective you choose to take. After my first husband ran off with a good friend (!) I tried one counselling session, at the insistence of all around me, but was shocked to find that I was encouraged to feel angry (I thought it was a blessing not to feel angry, but apparently I was repressing!) I chose to use Buddhist meditation to help me get a different perspective on what had happened, and got over it all much more quickly as a result. I decided to see my ex as a spiritual teacher in disguise, manifesting his cheating ways in order to help me learn a few lessons. I ended up being very thankful to him! That might not be the answer for everyone, of course, and a few people thought I was nuts, but actually, who’s to say what’s what – and at the very least it was a helpful view to adopt! Thanks for the thought provoking post, as always.

    Reply

    • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

      I hope you can pardon me for jumping in, MG. Don’t mean to trump the host but I’m not sure I can come back in for this particular response to MS with my time constraints. Michele, that is sOmething. Were yOu taken for a ride (by husband and “friend”). But you show us that Malcolm opened what is a Pandora’s Box: “I was encouraged to feel angry”. There are so many variations of therapy out there, I don’t think it’s fair to streak them all in a broad monochrome stroke and say they’re all this or that or ineffective in the long run. But I can’t help make the association with money-hungry doctors who are in the business of keeping us sick. The $ woud stop trickling in if they cured, after all. The therapy made you so uncomfortable you hopped on a different train for a funky ride, MS. Had to pipe in, as I found your story so interesting. I’m just glad you’re in a better place (and this husband has seemed wonderful, I must add. *grin*).

      Xx
      Diana

      Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Michele, that’s a powerful story about you seeing your ex as “a spiritual teacher in disguise”. What a great example of the power of changing your thinking, or as you say, your “perspective”. This is the kind of approach that the Stoics would recommend and we have already noted in a past exchange the similarity between Buddhism and Stoicism.

      Reply

  5. Bill Hayes Says:

    Totally agree Malcolm, just get back on the horse as soon as possible. I like Woody Allen’s take on it – “I’ve been with the same therapist for 13 years, and I giving her two more weeks”

    Reply

  6. The Sicilian Housewife Says:

    I’ve sometimes shocked people in the past by saying this – perhaps the problem was that I just didn’t say it as eloquently as you! I do very much agree. I have a friend who suffered an abusive childhood and who said the same thing – “Talking about the past cannot change it, it’s better to move forward.”

    Reply

  7. cindybruchman Says:

    Malcolm, I had to chuckle because it hit home in many ways. My roots are German and to ask for sympathy or portray emotions was unseemly and down right punishable. I’ve been repressing for years and just “dealing” with tragedies/hurts on my own as did my mother and hers, etcetera. To seek therapy is a sign of weakness. My daughter is befuddled by this defense mechanism. She wants to discuss and analyze and relive and talk–I want to run and hide in the closet from her. “Don’t air your dirty laundry” “Have some pride”. “Sympathy is in the dictionary between shit and shynola” These are the phrases from my childhood which float in my mind.”
    HA. Now what’s the downside to repression? Because I’ve spent a life time of negating negative experiences, I don’t remember much and I wonder why I feel irrationally over silly things. Or maybe I’m just getting old 😉
    Fun post, Malcolm.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Cindy, that’s a great comment! Yes, the Germans are not known for emoting so that must indeed lead to some interesting cultural clashes with your daughter in addition to the usual generational ones. Your suggestion that continual repression means you don’t remember much is both funny and sad. Funny, because you probably don’t want to remember the really bad things that have happened, but sad because we are diminished if we can’t recall the really intense moments in our life, for good or for bad. I wish I knew how to have our cake and eat it too, but I don’t 🙂

      Reply

  8. Mikels Skele Says:

    I’m like you, but I tend to think my way is better mostly because it’s my way. Of course, the same can be said for the let-it-all-out crowd. When it comes down to it, I fall back on my general view of things human: different strokes for different folks. For the same reason we like stereotyping, it’s tempting to think a single principle can be applied across the board to all people at all times; it makes things easier.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      I (very reluctantly) agree with you but, at the same time, our culture has tipped so far over to the “yak, yak, let it hang out” approach that I feel the balance needs to be redressed. Over the course of my life I have found that when large amounts of money are involved, and public opinion and mass media are in sync with federal and state governments over the solution to a particular social problem, then the solution is probably wrong.

      Reply

  9. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    Don’t think lying down and thinking of England (or another stiff nation like Korea) does much for me. =) You make a great point that the “experts” make it seem that age-old human troubles suddenly need the aid of professionals where the community of friends and family is inadequate.

    But while my character and temperament lead me toward stoicism (lowercase as a mere adjective, not the name of a practice) I’d have to disagree. I can’t help feel your thoughtful post is laced with cynicism (side grin). I believe healing is possible and we as human beings with our communicative capacity are meant to, wired to, express our deepest hurts. Just HOW we go about this, with whose help is the question or probably the ground for debate. I have long since seen through the smokescreen of psychotherapy but have known some brilliant and wise counselors who have helped draw many out to a place of freedom and joy.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      My God, woman! The British Empire wasn’t built by a load of sniveling, emoting frogs like Proust, whining for 30 pages because his mother didn’t kiss him good night. The British Empire was built by men, real men, moustache twirling men that could keep their emotions in check. Have you not read Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If,’?

      “If you can keep your head when all about you
      Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
      If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
      But make allowance for their doubting too;
      If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
      Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
      Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
      And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;”

      We are not wired “to express our deepest hurts”, we are wired for dash and daring, for action and achievement.

      Reply

      • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

        “moustache twirling men” LOL.
        “we are wired for dash and daring, for action and achievement.” Whatever. *Roll eyes* Look about, lately? She ain’t the British EMPIRE anymore. ^ ^

        You, actually, bring up the question I kept tugging Brit bloggers with last month when the subject of achievement would come up. Andrea (of My Father’s Box), among others, shared how the present British posture is one of ease, ” not getting above your station. (Andrea’s reply to a commenter on her guest post: I’d be interested to know what those readers from the US and other cultures think (particularly after Diana’s recent posts about achievement and success) – from the outside it appears that in other cultures achievement is celebrated and that you aren’t expected to see limits to what you can do.)

        I was surprised to learn the Brits don’t as a whole like to toot their own horn, not only when achievement is so celebrated as it is in other developed nations like the U.S. and Korea but bc England was once such the world power (with the strongest navy to boast).

        A reader finally offered what I took as a clue, that the milieu changed with the Victorian/Edwardian era.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Don’t knock the British Empire. It still exists, just not in the form that Empires have traditionally existed. Elected parliaments, habeas corpus, free contract, equality before the law, open markets, an unrestricted press, the right to proselytize for any religion, jury trials: all these things were the specific products of a British political ideology developed in the English language and spread by the British Empire. They still exist today in the countries that make up the Anglosphere.

          The answer to the question of why Brits don’t toot their own horn is complex because it involves the traditional British habit of understatement, the upper class disdain for commerce and business success, and the working class attitude that money could only have been made by exploiting the workers.

        • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

          Appreciate this – the last paragraph, esp.

  10. rung2diotimasladder Says:

    I recently learned of the connection of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Stoicism, which I thought was an interesting approach to dealing with grief and trauma. Ideas do matter and sometimes thinking rationally about a situation helps in dealing with emotions. There are a lot of therapies that try to get through the problem emotionally (I’m thinking of bizarre primal scream practices and such), but I don’t think these things would work for me for the reasons you describe.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Well, if you have to go to therapy CBT is definitely the way to go and yes, Albert Ellis, the grandfather of CBT, acknowledged his huge debt to the Stoics as I pointed out in this post.

      Reply

      • Michael R. Edelstein Says:

        Malcolm,

        Thanks for recognizing Albert Ellis, one of a handful of psychology pioneers of the 20th century. In addition, the harm you describe done by expressive therapies is frequently glossed over by popularizers of psychotherapy.

        “Repression” is not the word to describe what you’re so perceptively recommending. Other descriptors you use are more accurate: don’t “relive,” do not “dwell,” don’t “indulge,” do “distract.” Repression is a fiction created in Sigmund Freud’s prolific imagination. For further debunking of Freud and repression read the chapter “Your Unconscious Mind Has No Mind of Its Own” in Therapy Breakthrough which I wrote with David Ramsay Steele and Richard Kujoth.

        Michael R. Edelstein
        http://www.ThreeMinuteTherapy.com

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Michael, thank you. I will buy your book ‘Therapy Breakthrough’ but I don’t want the Kindle version because I want you sign it 🙂 You may be correct that in the terminology of psychology, repression is a fiction, but I am using it in the everyday language sense, where it means "holding back or holding down", or as you say not dwelling on an event or feeling and not indulging it.

  11. aaforringer Says:

    Was going to a therapist when my wife left me, went for months, he one day confided in me that his wife of a number of years had just left him. Then he came up with this wonderful observations, that maybe it, his marriage was a mistake. That is when I realized this guy really had no clue how to help me and he was as full of cow manure as anyone else.

    So I took what I had been paying him, on a weekly basis, saved up my money and got a nice new shotgun, which makes me feel just as good as therapy after a day at the range.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Laughing. That’s a great comment and exactly what I mean by distraction. If you are focused on an activity like shooting, which takes all your concentration, you have no time to indulge your emotions. You also bring up another good point which is that many therapists are wounded healers. If your therapist could not keep his own marriage together I don’t blame you for not being inspired with confidence in him. What shotgun did you buy?

      Reply

  12. NicoLite Великий Says:

    I really like repressing things. It lets me focus on the task at hand, and it keeps me functioning. But once I get idle, I do need to think about what has happened. For years, I have tried to ignore the teauma my own body inflicted upon me. It lead me to the precipice of alcoholism and cost me eight years, a lot of money, and the wasted opportunities of graduating as a physicist and a cultural anthropologist. I don’t know if Therapy would have spared me those regrets by helping me get on, but I’d be tried to find out if I could turn back the time. I was broken, and I managed to reassemble myself. But it cost me a lot. And I’m still figuring out if it was worth it.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Nico, I’m sorry to hear that you went through all that but very happy to hear that you managed to “reassemble” yourself without therapy. Thoreau knew what he was talking about when he said “men lead lives of silent desperation”. Each of us walks a very narrow trail. A little to the left or a little to the right and the trail slips away precipitously, which often leads to permanent or even fatal accidents. The longer one lives the more people one sees falling off the trail. Eventually we all fall off. So depressing. I can’t believe I wrote that 🙂

      Reply

  13. thenoveilst Says:

    The world is not a forum in which to indulge our emotions anyway, as vulnerability is often seen within the remits of wondology. So, for many of us, we bite our lips and carry on regardless.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. This is an intriguing comment but please clarify what you mean by ‘wondology’.

      Reply

      • thenoveilst Says:

        My pleasure 🙂 Well, it was a term coined by Caroline Myss which she used to validate her overview on how we heal or don’t heal. This is her take on it I quote here:

        “So many people in the process of healing are, at the same time, feeling stuck.They are striving to confront their painful experiences, valiantly working to
        bring meaning to past traumas, and exercising compassionate understanding of others
        who share their wounds. But they are still
        not healing. Rather, they have redefined
        their lives around their wounds and the process of accepting them.When we define ourselves in this
        way—what I call “woundology”—we lose
        our physical and spiritual energy, and open
        ourselves to the risk of illness. We are not
        meant to stay wounded. We are supposed
        to move through our tragedies and challenges and to help others move through theirs. By remaining stuck in the power of our wounds, we block our own transformation. We overlook the greater gifts inherent in our wounds—the strength to overcome them and the lessons we are meant to receive through them. Wounds teach us to become passionate and wise.”

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for introducing me to Caroline Myss. Woundology is an interesting concept but it does resonate as I’ve known a number of people who appear to have molded their lives around their various ailments and are always talking about them. It’s difficult not to do this at first, when one is suddenly overwhelmed with a serious medical condition, but it’s important to remember that “We are not meant to stay wounded.”

        • thenoveilst Says:

          You’re welcome and you are right. It’s the human being’s default mechanism to share their story, according to time, place and circumstance. No jiva/living entity is meant to be alone with it all. But the point is always to progress.

  14. Jon Sharp Says:

    Well, I still think that a problem shared is a problem halved, but I also believe you don’t need to lie on an expensive couch and pay by the hour to do it. Perhaps by sharing and talking about something to a friend or loved one, it helps stimulate ideas for a solution which is perhaps why I also think that the simple notion of “stop worrying” is bad advice. Worrying stimulates the brain to find a solution (well it does mine anyway).

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Jon, thank you. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written. I also think sharing a problem with a friend or loved one is a good idea because, typically, they will offer love, care and support rather than encouraging you to relive the experience and analyze the situation in minute detail. Also, being concerned about a problem is OK as long as you are concerned about something that you have some control over.

      Reply

  15. UpChuckingwords Says:

    I like the Stoic view myself. I’m with you on this one, Malcolm. Lie down and think of England…you had me chuckling on this one.

    Reply

  16. aFrankAngle Says:

    Interesting thoughts to ponder. Sure, each of us are on a different point on the continuum, but you’ve reminded me of the person who has difficulty moving on … that is, will keep sharing the same story but with others in what I believe is the ongoing search for validation of their side – as opposed to trying to improve themselves, their situation, and their hurt. Now I wonder if this made sense.

    Reply

  17. The Savvy Senorita Says:

    I actually trained to be a Counsellor, however I came to a realisation that some things cannot be resolved by merely talking about them. In fact, talking often re-opens old wounds, which may not heal because the ‘issue’ remains fresh and at the forefront of a persons mind. After all, talking cannot change what was! I think coming to terms with an ‘issue’ heals more than trying to fathom a reason or apply logic. I do however feel that some things need to be talked through, and, I do like to express how I feel! Yet, there is often a time and place for such things and of course, I wouldn’t let just anyone see and hear my ‘dirty laundry’. Trust is a big issue to sharing deep confidences. Thanks for posting Malcolm, a pleasure to read as always.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Bex. I am sure you were great at counseling and thank you also for raising the all-important question of trust. I must say that I’m surprised you and so many others agreed with the main thrust of this post, although qualifying it in particular details. I thought I was going to stir up a hornet’s nest but apparently not.

      Reply

      • The Savvy Senorita Says:

        Thanks Malcolm. I can see why you would have thought that, but you are merely stating a truth, probably a truth most people skate around! Needless to say your posts always resonate with me, and I thoroughly enjoy reading them!

        Reply

  18. Mike Says:

    Reblogged this on This Got My Attention and commented:
    Great points!

    Reply

  19. Lynn Patra Says:

    Hi Malcolm,

    Great post! Just wanted to say that getting through problems (traumatic or otherwise) by being stoic is something that I agree with and embrace as well. As you’ve noted, there are similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism – the latter influencing Asian culture. You may have already heard this but, because Asian culture teaches people not to dwell on the negative feelings associated with problems as time spent focused on them is thought to extend the previous negative experience and worsen mental health, it’s common for Asians not to seek out, or accept, Western therapy.

    I’ve found that misunderstandings often occur between those who believe emoting and talking on and on about the problem leads to wellness (and that repression is unhealthy) and those who believe it worsens mental health. Therapists (here in the U.S.) are often in the former group. While I too have studied psychology for decades, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to “undo” what therapist friends believe. To me, the analogy is like driving… you veer towards the direction that you’re looking at. So someone who’s fixated and indulging themselves in the negative emotions associated with trauma will remain in that difficult place longer. Although, I’ve known therapist friends who don’t think encouraging people to emote keeps them in therapy longer (or that they’re, however unintentionally, bringing more in business for themselves), I do see how this works out conveniently for them.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Lynn, thank you for the thoughtful comments. Not dwelling on “negative feelings associated with problems” seems intuitive to us but apparently not to the mental health profession. You raise a good point about the therapists benefiting from keeping their patients longer. I know that Dr. Michael Edelstein, who commented above, has written a best selling book called ‘Three Minute Therapy’ but most people I know in therapy are there for a lot longer than that 🙂

      Reply

  20. Tahira Says:

    Malcolm, this post had me chuckling. Not that trauma and dealing with it is funny – But that is an entirely other subject. What is “funny” to me is the British aspect to it. One of my very best friends is British – the sort of Brit that has THE most polite stiff upper lip. The other day she sent me this *list* and had me rolling on the ground laughing.
    British Peoples Problems: http://ind.pn/1uz3N40

    Reply

  21. Daniela Says:

    Hi Malcolm,

    I like your posts for their eloquence, informative and range of topics. This one is no exception even though I do not agree with the notion that bottling an up/repressing traumatic event is better than dealing with the emotions it evokes. I also note that the study you cited is rather old. Having said that, I think the answer, while cannot be definite, largely depends on two critical facets; personality of the sufferer and the type/significance of traumatic event they experience. In addition, those who do not have family to support them or are socially isolated due to lack of resource, location, illness, etc. would be even further disadvantaged if they cannot access professional assistance.

    Regards,
    Daniela

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “I do not agree with the notion that bottling an up/repressing traumatic event is better than dealing with the emotions it evokes.”

      Thank you Daniela. It takes a strong woman to disagree with me so I’m not surprised you were one of those stepping forward. I think part of the problem is that the ‘yak, yak, yak’ approach has been institutionalized because therapists can make money out of it and the government has endorsed it, while the ‘stiff upper lip’ approach is just something many of us do quietly on our own. A medical analogy would be high blood pressure. There was a time when I was diagnosed with prehypertension and was prescribed medication. I refused the medication, changed my diet, went on a grueling exercise regime and successfully lowered my blood pressure. However, the medical model is the one favored by most doctors for a host of reasons, including the financial incentives of pharmaceutical companies, the issue of professional liability and the belief that most patients lack the willpower to carry out major lifestyle changes.

      Reply

      • Daniela Says:

        I see I have been found out -:)! I am taking ‘strong woman’ as a compliment Malcolm!

        And I do agree with you on the reasons (or at least some of them) for which medical profession favours so called medical model, although in recent times more of alternative models have been green light by medical professionals. Above all, in never ending variations of human nature, there are indeed people who, while suffering just as much as anyone, are indeed not able to carry out stoic (and highly commendable) acts of self-help via gruelling regimes. I do applaud you for your success Malcolm, as much as I know of those (and many of them) who simply cannot do so. For those I ask kindness and I ask compassion.

        Summer is high in my little island and annual Christmas/New Year holidays are upon us … beaches are calling!

        My best wishes,
        Daniela

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          It certainly was a compliment. Beaches at Christmas, not the usual association over here! I would just add, reiterating the unrecordedman’s point below, that expectations are all-important. If expectations favor the medical model, more people will use it, if expectations favor the self-help model, more people will attempt it.

  22. Dalo 2013 Says:

    Finally, a post that appreciates repression 🙂 While I do not understand much about therapy, I do like the idea of focusing on today, the good of the now and happiness… Sometimes it seems that western therapy is more akin to keep picking at a scab, thereby ensuring that it scars. I also now understand more of a benefit of the British stiff upper lip, and enjoyed the George MacDonald Fraser quote. Cheers!

    Reply

  23. Kate Loveton Says:

    Hi Malcolm. This is a fascinating discussion, especially in terms of PTSD. I am interested not only in what you’ve said above, but in the commentary from your readers that followed.

    I think there are benefits to therapy in that an objective POV often helps people come to terms with things that they otherwise have difficulty facing. I have read, however, that dwelling too much on harrowing things that we’ve witnessed or been part of can have a deleterious effect. I’m not sure what’s the answer. Still, I guess if people could just get on with the business of ‘getting on,’ they wouldn’t be experiencing PTSD.

    I am going to reblog this because it is a discussion I am interested in.

    I got a charge out of your advice to ‘lie down and think of England’ – grin! I enjoy your blog greatly!

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Kate, thank you for your comment and for reblogging the post. I would just take issue with your term “objective POV”. Therapists are not objective and they have their own interests and incentives just like doctors do. The longer the patient stays in therapy the greater the therapist’s compensation. Although I did not explicitly make it clear in the post, except in the comments, the main thrust of the post was against psychoanalytical therapists, who tend to keep patients in therapy for much longer than cognitive therapists, because they believe the process of therapy (talking about and reliving the painful experiences) is part of the cure whereas cognitive therapists are more solution oriented.

      Reply

  24. Kate Loveton Says:

    Reblogged this on Odyssey of a Novice Writer and commented:
    If you haven’t checked out Malcolm Greenhill’s blog, ‘malcolmscorner,’ then you’re missing some interesting posts. Here’s one – and its ensuing discussion – that is indicative of the good stuff he has there.

    Reply

  25. jamborobyn Says:

    I’ve personally tried a number of approaches to my own healing and I definitely agree with your post. The best response to something emotionally traumatic is to do something life-affirming. Laughing or becoming absorbed in interesting activities is particularly helpful. Just get on with it. Imagining or discussing the past over and over also seems to have a physical effect on the nervous system, making the body respond as though the problem is here now, rather than an experience from the past. Doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in talking things over every now and then, it helps to move fixed ideas along and get a fresh perspective. I am also reminded of the idea that without discipline there is no true freedom.

    Reply

  26. Lily Lau Says:

    This post made me reflect so much… you definitely have a talent with words.

    Reply

  27. heatherbcosta Says:

    Wise words Malcolm and excellent reading. I really enjoyed this post,I just wish I could be a bit more ‘stiff upper lip’ about things myself.

    Reply

  28. authorbengarrido Says:

    Isn’t it better to master pain, come to understand it, to accept it and move on than to avoid it in hopes you never feel icky?

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      You’ve recently witnessed a terrorist attack and have seen bodies being blown to bits. You are haunted by nightmares of the scene. I am simply recommending that your advice be followed rather than going into therapy where you will be encouraged to talk about your experience and relive the scenes in your mind.

      Reply

  29. Tom Wootton Says:

    Hi Malcolm,
    It is great to hear from you and thanks for the invite to join the discussion. You certainly have attracted a group of people who like to discuss interesting topics. I don’t really have time to get into it but to hope that you don’t ever face a deep depression that will render such notions irrelevant. The depression might kill you while trying to hold on to them.

    I agree with you that talking about feelings with people who understand so little about them is pointless. I agree with your lumping most of psychiatry into that group, but the few stoics that achieved enlightenment through that path moved beyond it and saw all experiences in a different context. For them, stoicism was a means to an end but the end was far beyond the construct that helped them achieve it.

    I have found it is much better to understand how to drive on a mountain road than to hope I survive the crash while staring at the floor. I think the fatal flaw is thinking you have no control so you might as well not try. We are capable of far more than most can even imagine – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bipolar-advantage/201411/choosing-mania-or-depression-without-disorder

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Tom, thank you. I really did not have depression in mind when I wrote this post. I do, however, highly recommend that everyone read the article that you linked to, as I find it astonishing that you can do the things you claim to in the article. You mention that actors can also turn on and off these emotional states but I was wondering whether there was a difference, whether you were actually depressed when you turned on depression, as opposed to the actor who is acting as if he or she is depressed?

      Reply

      • Tom Wootton Says:

        I am actually depressed and since I have been teaching it for ten years to thousands of people I can say it has a depth equal to the most extreme ones. Actors may not have such states, but Heath Ledger inhabited the role of The Joker so much that some say it is what killed him.

        Mentioning actors doing it is just a point of reference many can relate to. Since depression runs high in creative types i would not be surprised that many of them are accessing the real thing and perhaps in a way that affords them insight into it. Robin Williams sure did a convincing job in “What Dreams May Come” and “Good Will Hunting.”

        Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “Malcolm, I do have a weak spot for British stiff upper lips :)”

      Which ones, those belonging to Kenneth Branagh or Hugh Grant? 🙂

      Hanne, you raise some very good points. On reflection I agree with you about the stories. Stories are so important, acting as a filter and buffer between us and the real world. It’s not surprising that we take comfort in even the hurtful ones as long as we have got used to them. And yes, you are right, there are some good, bad and great therapists.

      Reply

  30. Hanne T. Fisker Says:

    Malcolm, I do have a weak spot for British stiff upper lips 🙂
    I agree that there comes a certain point where gritting our teeth and get on with life is the best medicine. I have also seen the damage psychotherapy can do, through having studied it myself and half way through left it exactly because I saw all the consequences you are describing above and I found within myself that there is another way with these things and another way to work with people.
    Having said that. As most counselling, it comes down to two people, the counselor and the client. As for the client, how willing is this person to let go of the traumas. Because believe it or not, we are very interesting beings that for some reasons unconsciously prefer to hold on to stories, even if they hurt us for that simple reason that we know them. We find an identity in them. To leave the stories behind is to leave a part of ones identity and enter unknown land. And apparently nothing is more frightening for us than the unknown and no stories to hold on to. Now, regarding the counselor. How deep can they listen, do they truly see the person in front of them as a magnificent mysterious being with all the potential in the world to see beauty and passion and act on it, or does the counselor sit with projections, prescribed formulas and techniques and a to do list looking at the person as a problem that needs to be fixed all things that can get in the way of deeply seeing and listening to the person and the essence of this person, not only the words they say. The former can transform lives the latter can re-traumatise a life.
    As always, Malcolm, your posts are tremendously appreciated on this end, for the thoughts and reflections they stir. I have many more I wish to add but I think I will leave it with this for now….

    Reply

  31. theunrecordedman Says:

    Strangely enough I am reading the very same book, ‘Quartered safe out here’. I wonder if you also came to it via a review by Peter Hitchens, which in turn came via a mention by John Derbyshire.

    One question: Did you notice that we were losing our stiff upper lip or did you read about it? With me it was the latter. I had to have it pointed out to me. I was like the frog being boiled so slowly that it didn’t notice it was being boiled. Sentimentalism crept up on us without my noticing. Suddenly, like ‘love’ in the song, it was all around.

    I teach foreigners English and at the end of term the female teachers always have stories of how their students couldn’t help crying at the thought of not seeing their teachers and some other students again. I noticed that my students never cried, even though they like me. I came to the conclusion that the teachers were giving off certain signals and the students picked up on the cues and responded accordingly. In short, they were being told to cry whereas mine weren’t. I think we look to those around us to discover how we should be feeling about situations. If they look sad we will be sad. If they look scared, we will be scared. In short: don’t surround yourself with cry-babies.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      That’s certainly a coincidence about ‘Quartered’. I came to it randomly when I was searching for an appropriate quotation for the post. I’ve bought the book but have not read it yet. Looks like a great read. I certainly noticed the ‘stiff upper lip’ thing. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, emoting is in mother’s milk and everyone is an ‘expert’ on therapy, but it’s also obvious when I return to the UK. As I said in the post, I think the real turning point was after Lady Di’s death. I couldn’t agree with you more about the signals people give off. The threshold for acceptable emoting is so low nowadays that when the appropriate cues are given, the floodgates just open. Thank you for commenting.

      Reply

  32. Beth Says:

    I cannot remember which doctor told me to do it, but their idea of sharing my arthritis stories was counter productive. I found out in a hurry that *nobody* wants to hear how you feel even if they ask. Even family lacks the patience to listen, so I have learned to spare them and move on.

    Reply

  33. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    I was interviewed on writer A.A. Forringer’s site. Aaron, thank you for the interview and for your friendship.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Interviews of Bloggers I Follow – Malcolm’s Corner | Stories and Quotes from the Mind* and Keyboard of A.A.Forringer - December 13, 2014

    […] in my category: How I See the World,  Being Alone with Style, and his most current article In Praise of Repression  speaks deeply to […]

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