Tag Archives: emotion

Stoicism: The eternal now

In a previous post (Irvine’s summary) I made the point that…

“People generally confuse the things they can control with the things they cannot. The result is frustration and wasted effort as we invest (waste) our emotional and practical energies in futile attempts to make changes that are beyond our ability.”

In therapy sessions with my patients and clients I often encourage people to distinguish between…

  1. The things that they can control,
  2. The things that they can influence but not control, and
  3. The things that interest them but that they can neither influence or control.

I describe these different categories as ‘spheres of influence’.

The basic idea is to help people to understand the difference between a problem and a fact…

Problems are things that can be solved.

Facts simply are – they cannot be changed.

One of the biggest sources of frustration and distress comes from the attempt to treat facts as though they were problems: from the attempt to ‘solve’ facts; from the attempt to do the impossible.

The past is always a fact – but so is the present and, very often, the immediate future. Some people lament the fact that the past cannot be solved, that it cannot be altered but that’s not really very helpful. If the goal is to be effective now there’s no benefit in obsessing about ‘water under the bridge’, no matter how difficult or unpleasant things might have been at the time. In the task of living we are always precisely where we are at this moment.

Accepting that, accepting the fact that the past is no longer ours to change means that we can also begin to see it as no longer our concern. It’s true that there may be issues arising from past events or mistakes that we need to deal with but any actions we need to take will be taken in the present or the future – not the past. We can learn from the past but we need never be concerned about it because it’s gone.

That brings us to the present – the only thing we ever really have to call our own. And it’s fleeting. In fact, by the time you notice the present moment it’s already gone into the past and is no longer your concern. Yes – I know that sounds a bit weird but please, give it some thought – it’s important, especially when dealing with long-term hardship. Understand the concept now and you’ll find it much easier to bear life’s misfortunes later. You’ll be much more effective as you work to change and overcome them too.

Life is a series of moments, most of which are actually pretty neutral. It’s anxiety and anticipation that spoils our days, not the enduring event because most events don’t actually endure all that long. People endure hours of misery when they don’t need to because they’re forever focussing upon either the past (which is no longer their affair) or the future (which may be theirs to plan for but is not yet theirs to experience).

Even at times of hardship the eternal now is relevant. How bad is your situation at this very instant? Why let your mind focus on experiencing hardship before it needs to? Why experience the thing you dread before it happens?

It’s far more constructive to plan for the future than to imagine it negatively and suffer all the emotional distress that such imaginings bring. Make it a habit never to allow yourself to experience misfortune in your mind before it actually happens but to plan to deal with potential future problems instead. And understand that if you expect pain – there’s no need to be distressed by it until you actually feel it. Even then stoicism advises us not to worry about pain but that’s for another post. We need to cover some more basic stuff first.

Remember ‘the eternal now’. Do you have physical comfort and freedom from abuse right now, at this precise moment? Then you have all that you could possibly need. This moment in life is a success. Use the current success to plan with a clear head how to solve the problems of the future. Don’t squander it trying to solve the past (which is a fact, not a problem). Be glad of your immediate situation. The only alternative is to cancel out all those moments of contentment and comfort with futile focus upon the past which you can never change or the future which you have not yet reached.

The life well-lived involves taking time to appreciate the good moments (which generally far outweigh the bad).

Boring stoics!

Stoics are boring aren’t they?

Oh, no! There’s nothing boring about Stoicism. There’s nothing boring about embracing change, about opposing injustice or about developing self reliance. There’s nothing boring about experiencing life and all it has to offer whilst still maintaining control of your emotions and judgement so you can savour the experience all the more.

Soap operas and small-talk are boring.
Trashy novels and superficial documentaries are boring.
Endless consumerism is boring.

Stoic joy and the wonder of a life well lived is far from boring.

Stoicism isn’t boring – it’s liberating.

Jugglers do it with practice :-)

Many people think they have no control over how they feel. They think that their emotions are caused by other people and by events. But that just isn’t true. People can learn to feel OK whatever other people do. It’s all about learning to take direct control over our own emotions. That’s a skill, just like any other and just like any other skill, it can be learned.

Learning to manage emotions and learning to juggle have much in common. Both seem mysterious and difficult to master until we understand the principles involved. Both require a fair amount of practice to become ‘expert’ but equally, we can make some improvement in just a short time if we apply the right methods.

This short video will not make anyone master either of mood management or of juggling. The emotional stuff is covered in other videos. Here we look at some of the most basic points of emotional management to help set people along the road. There’s nothing particularly easy about emotional management but for most people there’s nothing impossible either. It takes time and it takes practice. Subscribe to this channel and over time we’ll cover most of the other principles of emotional management too.

As for the juggling – well that’s up to you.

MTCT Learning to juggle.png

Complete the contact form below to arrange training for your staff.

Should psychiatrists diagnose personality disorder?

Personality disorder is a controversial diagnosis. There are no blood tests or physical criteria confirming personality disorder. In fact there’s no real evidence to suggest that personality disorder is a medical condition at all. So why do psychiatrists diagnose personality disorder? More importantly… should they?

Here we consider the roots of personality disorder diagnoses from the Moral defective of a century ago to the 3 personality disorder clusters of today. We look at the way personality disorder is diagnosed through behaviours, emotions and enduring patterns of response to society and we consider the advantages of understanding a person’s personality traits. Knowledge is power.

The more we know the more likely we are to be able to help. But we must be careful. Too often the diagnosis of personality disorder is used as an excuse to write a person off as incurable, hopeless or even undeserving. That’s the legacy we’ve been left by our Edwardian and Victorian predecessors.

If we are to do right by the personality disordered patients of today and in the future we need to embrace the understanding this diagnosis can bring but reject the pejorative notions of undeservingness, incurability and hopelesness that all too often come along with it.

To arrange training for your staff please complete the contact form below…

Privileged glimpses 12: Don’t flap

This series of blog posts first appeared a few years ago on a now defunct blog called ‘Care Training’. It was inspired by the training maxim of ‘making the unconscious conscious’. It is intended to take what really ought to be the most basic principles of health and social care and put them down on paper. The series isn’t only an exercise in stating the obvious though whatever the title might suggest. It’s actually intended as a philosophical foundation manual for workers and informal carers to help them get their care ‘on track’ and then to keep it that way.

More haste – less speed.

There is a very real responsibility in social care work. The best workers are aware of that and strive to live up to it. They know that what they do matters and they take their work seriously.

Unfortunately though that sense of responsibility can become a problem in itself. The more seriously we take our duties the more likely we are to become stressed about them unless we also learn how to manage our own anxieties. Some of the most caring and compassionate people I know are also the ones most likely to turn into headless chickens the moment anything out of the ordinary happens.

The problem is that the more we flap the less effective we become. Our emotional over reaction is contagious too. If we lose our cool then our colleagues are more likely to do the same. Not only that, the people we care for are just as susceptible to displays of emotion themselves. Uncontrolled displays of anxiety from workers serve only to unsettle the environment even further. Instead of having one problem to deal with over anxious workers quickly find themselves stuck in the middle of a whirlpool of unrest and that just makes their work even more difficult. And they brought it upon themselves with their own lack of self control.

Perhaps more importantly it’s not fair on the people who rely upon us – the people in our care.

So the message here is simple. This ‘privileged glimpse’ really is bleedin’ obvious:

Don’t flap!