Thursday, March 28, 2013

Should children go to funerals?

Over the years I have been asked this from time to time and it has always struck me as an odd question. My answer has always been, “Why the heck not”. Of course the parents of such a child are fearful that being at a funeral might somehow psychologically damage the child. That wont happen given that other circumstances are OK.

Young girl and helicopters

Obviously a child can only go to a funeral if the cultural rituals allow for it. I would also recommend that a child not go if there was the potential for some major calamity or highly emotional event. If someone was going to angrily attack another person there or if someone was going to throw them self in the grave and start tearing at their skin whilst screaming. Baring such unusual events I would recommend that they do go as the child could psychologically benefit from it.

There probably is one other thing to keep in mind. When a child and a parent are placed into a sudden unpredictable high stress event such as a car accident or a bomb goes off near by the first thing a child will do is to look at the parent and try to read them. As the event is unusual the child will not know how to react so they will look to the parent for ‘guidance’ in this way. Does mother get angry, collapse in shock, get calm and problem solve and so forth? The child will take the cues from how mother reacts and then react in its own way which most often (but not always) will be similar to mother’s reaction or some derivative of it depending on its own natural temperament. Either way it will be heavily influenced by mother’s emotional reaction to this unpredictable event.


If at a funeral mother is really, really going to loose it emotionally then it might be a good idea to have someone else look after the child whilst there. There is nothing wrong, in fact it is psychologically good for a child to see mother cry at a funeral and even sob at a funeral if someone is nearby reassuring the child that mummy is OK. Which of course mummy is. Mummy will start sobbing and then mummy will stop sobbing and then life goes on. A child will not be psychologically damaged by viewing such an event.

When my two sons were about 4 and 6 years old their grandfather (my father) died from an illness. At the chapel we had a viewing of him in his coffin and I took my children up to him and we said a few words and each touched him in turn. I never have understood what’s the big deal. People live and people die. When people die you say your goodbyes, you take time to grieve and life goes on.

As this diagram shows there are two different ways of knowing things, in your Adult and Child ego states. When a loved one dies we will know in our Adult ego state that the person is dead. We have an intellectual understanding of it.

A thinks, C blieves

This is quite different from the Child ego state feeling, knowing and believing the person is deceased. We all have a 4 year old inside us who will be there until the day we die. So we all have the ability to think and feel quite irrational things like a 4 year old can. Accepting that a loved one is deceased can be one of those occasions where the Child in us will think in a prelogical way and not accept the death in some way.

clowns carry coffin

Funerals in this way can be very helpful. If the cultural rituals allow it I always suggest that there be a viewing of the body where the bereaved go and stand close to the body and touch it. The touching part in particular will let the 4 year old inside of us get some comprehension that the person is dead and gone. Often this can be quite powerful psychologically. And of course there is no reason why children cannot do the same.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Games children play - Happy to help

This game is about survival

The good child. This child does what it is told, follows the rules, can be overly
helpful, can be quite shy, is reluctant to express what it wants or needs, will put
others before itself. If they are not so much the shy one they can become high
achievers if they have natural talent in some area. They learn that to be good you do
well at school, or in sport or in civic work and so they achieve in that way, by doing
’stuff’, rather than hiding away.

Why would such a youngster exhibit excessive Conforming Child ego state and
give up their Rebellious Child and Free Child ego states?

Ego states - good child

There can be a number of reasons for this
* There can be an excessive pressure for the child to conform by the parents
who may be quite conforming themselves. “What will the neighbors think” is often
the motto of such a family. The parents are reluctant to be non-conforming
themselves and perhaps are merely parenting the way they were parented.

The pressure can also be applied because the parents use the child as a status
symbol. Often this is the eldest child in the family or the one the parents believe
have some natural talents. I recall one instance of an individual who was
relentlessly pressured by mother to go to university and become a doctor. When
ever there was a family get together it was repeatedly announced particularly by
mother that he was a doctor. She was using her sons achievement to compete or gain
credence in the wider family. You see clients like this in counselling room in their
30s or 40s and they say things like, “I never wanted to be an economist, I just
wanted to be an opera singer”.


* This can be the oldest child in the family which the parents use as a live
in baby-sitter for the younger siblings which frees up the parents. If the eldest
child accepts this role this fosters the child to put its needs behind
those of its younger siblings. Alternatively it can be a child who has a sibling who is
disabled, or sick, or has extra needs of some sort. The parents simply do not have
the time and energy to deal with the non-sick youngster so they force it to be good
so it requires less attention. In large families as well you can get the ‘forgotten
child’. In today’s culture any family that has over three children is quite possibly
emotionally damaging to the children for the reason just cited.

People who are this type of good child often will tend towards the helping
professions in adulthood. They can quite easily become transactional analysts
because in such a role you focus on the needs and wants of others and do not discuss
your own such wants. Your needs are secondary at least while you are working.

* Sometimes it is the only position left in the family. As a new child enters the
family and grows into it he has to find where he fits. The parents have the Parent
and Adult ego states covered and a sibling may have the outspoken, demanding
position taken so the ‘happy to help’ good child position is the only one left. If the
child’s natural temperament is of that kind than it can very easily fall into the good
child position in the family.

* The good child can be anxiety driven. If a child develops significant anxiety for
some reason (abuse, abandonment, threats, etc), it can make the early decision, “To
make myself safe I need to sit quietly and watch what is happening” or, “I must not
rock the boat or bad things happen”. This is an unfortunate child as it can suffer quite bad anxiety or depression but it never gets identified or diagnosed. As it does not cause problems at school or at home the adults around it will focus on other problem children and it is left unattended.

Smoking girl

The ‘Happy to help’ game in essence involves a contraction of the Free
Child(FC) ego state. As mentioned before such game players often present for
counselling in their 30s or 40s and ask the question, “Who am I?” in some form.
Without good access to the Free Child one cannot answer that question. If you are
high Conforming Child (CC) the answer to that question is - “I am who you want me
to be”. If the person if high Rebellious Child (RC) they answer - “I am the
opposite of who you want me to be”. Both the RC and CC are adaptations to the
parents. If they are left to do what they want then they are lost, they do not have
a sense of who they are and thus will not have a direction in life and will never find
their true passion in life. The person with good access to their FC will be able to
answer the question, “Who am I?”. They can answer that with the practicalities of
life, but they will also have a sense of who they are. They will feel it inside. The RC
and CC do not feel it. The good child will struggle with this problem.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Psychology of the beautiful woman - Part 3

In recent times I have come under some criticism about my posts on the beautiful woman. It has been alleged that I have been too critical and demonizing them. After reading again what I have written I think there is truth to these comments that I have been too harsh.

I did at one point say that I was generalizing with my comments but I perhaps should have also said that most beautiful women will adjust relatively normally to the odd situation in which they find themselves. Any exceptional person is abnormal in the statistical sense of the word. Because of some quality they have, they are out side the normal range where most people fit.

Statistical normal curve

The normal curve. The beautiful and the very unattractive are not in the normal range as the vast majority of people are. 

As they are outside the normal range they will have to deal with circumstances which most other people do not. This is what I have been attempting to explain with my posts. I think I have achieved this but at the same time I have not highlighted that many beautiful women are probably nice people people with good psychological adjustment. They have been able to successfully negotiate the psychological pitfalls which their physical appearance brings them and develop psychologically in a reasonably normal way. 

It is true I have been focussing on the negative psychological fallout that their appearance can bring them. The reasons for doing this are obvious in that this is the purpose of the writing in the first place BUT I do also want to say that in my view most will avoid any serious psychological damage that could result, such as significant narcissism.


This of course applies to any person who has some exceptional quality whether that be academic ability, power, wealth, singing ability or being the fastest runner in the world. However I would say that the beautiful woman has more difficult circumstances than these others. In the other examples just cited they can easily hide their special attribute. No one would know they have it unless they are told or the person goes out of her way to show it, like running a race. 

However the beautiful woman cannot do this as her exceptional ability is ‘in you face’ each and every day she ventures out into the social world. She could dress in a very unattractive way but in essence she would have to hide herself like this for people to not see. 


It could therefore be said that her special ability is going to have more of an impact on her psychology than other types of special ability. Also her specialness is there from day one and especially from early adolescence whereas one does not know they have exceptional academic ability until the end of school or one does not know they are the fastest runner until they have competed at the olympics.

However I would like to say to these women that I apologize if I have treated them too harshly. My motive was to look at this group who fall out side the normal range and examine what may be the psychological consequences of that. Naturally there will tend to be more interest in the negative psychological consequences as that is what psychologists and psychotherapists are required to deal with when they work. Clients don’t seek out psychotherapists to work on what is positive and healthy.


Friday, March 15, 2013

The psychology of the beautiful woman - Part 2

Some time ago I wrote an article on life positions and concluded that there were 7 life positions instead of the customary 4. However in that article I asserted that human do not naturally see OKness in others. They have to be forced to see others as OK as it is not a natural thing for them to do. Whilst this may seem a somewhat machiavellian view of human nature it is one that I hold to and I may add could be argued to be consistent with Freud’s view of the natural state of human psychology.

This view follows the idea of primary narcissism as was presented by Freud. Every child is born a narcissist or as Freud would put it, with a form of self love that he called primary narcissism. On a side note this makes the narcissistic personality type unique amongst all the other personality types such as the paranoid, schizoid, OC, hysteric and so forth. People as they develop will grow into these personality types. They develop over time as a result of the person’s natural temperament and the early life script decisions they make. With the narcissistic personality it is not a matter of growing into it but growing out of it. The narcissist never resolves or develops out of his state of primary narcissism as all the other personality types do.

Sit woman

One resolves their primary narcissism by having the value of others forced upon them. Parents show to the child that the value and rights of their siblings are just as important as their own. Parents force the child to see the value of their siblings. They can’t eat all the cake alone but are forced to share it with their brothers and sisters because they are just as important. When this happens the child develops out of its state of primary narcissism and begins to conclude that others are OK. 

The machiavellian part is that if left alone a child will not naturally share the cake. Instead it will eat it all and leave none for the siblings if it can get away with it. So what has this got to do with the psychology of the beautiful woman you may ask. In my original article I state that people who are exceptionally good looking, very rich, famous or very powerful are not required to see others as OK like the average person is. Because of their special attribute they will always have a queue of people who are willing to be friends or at least associates of theirs. They do not have to treat others with as much respect that the average looking woman does, at least with males. Now I am sure many very good looking women have the view that others are OK, but the point here is that it is harder for them to maintain that position than it is with the average looking woman. That average female does not have a queue and hence she is constantly reminded of the necessity to treat others as OK such that they will still want to be her friend. The very beautiful woman has to spend extra effort to avoid the ever present slide back into her state of primary narcissism.


Siblings are crucial for our development out of primary narcissism.

I have mentioned before how the beautiful looking woman is in danger of being seduced by her own seductiveness. From early adolescence onwards she discovers that her beauty will get some (many) men to give her extra special treatment when she wants it. The problem with this is she will start to rely on it. The more she relies on it the less she has to develop other skills to get what is wanted. She does not have to develop other skills that the average looking woman does and indeed the male do, to get on in life and get where one is wanting to go.

A woman, particularly a good looking woman can use her physical attractiveness to climb up the ladder of what ever profession she is in. I am not talking about sleeping with various people to get to the top but as I mentioned in part one, the unconscious level of communication that is ever present in human communication. In this case between the woman and the man that will have some level of sexualness involved in it, especially for the very good looking female. Indeed I suggest that this will happen in many males minds whether she likes it or not.

This provides an interesting view on what is known as the glass ceiling effect for women. The idea, at least in westernized democracies, that there is a trend for women to make it only so far up the corporate ladder and then they seem to stop. There are very few women who actually get right to the top of what ever profession they may be in such as in politics or the commercial world. There are probably multiple reasons for this but for the beautiful woman she is especially disadvantaged in this way. 

Soldiers & girl

I would suggest that right at the very top of any profession her physical attractiveness counts for very little. She needs the other skills required, such that the men at the top have, whether they be political skills, commercial skills or some other kind of skill. At the very high levels the beauty stops working, or is much less influential in the males mind at least. She becomes more of a direct competitor to the male. If she has relied on her beauty then she has not had to develop (so much) the other skills over the years and hence she is disadvantaged. She has been seduced by her own seductiveness. Physical attractiveness for the male has never helped him climb the corporate ladder and thus he has had to develop the other skills required over many years.

One other thing not uncommonly seen in counselling with the female who is entering mid to late adulthood involves at times a significant level of psychological adjustment to be made. It can be quite a difficult time for her indeed. The looks start to disappear. What a western society has determined as physical attractiveness tends to go for the female when she reaches this stage of life. She discovers she is noticed less by males and indeed they start to notice the younger looking female instead. The more physical attractiveness she had the more she is going to notice this. For some women this period can be a time of quite difficult psychological adjustment.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The psychology of the beautiful woman - Part 1

What are some of the psychological phenomena that surround the exceptionally good looking female. This post is based on my own observations in everyday life and from listening to clients talk in the safety and security of the counselling room for the past 30 years. As with anything human there are always differences and exceptions so I am generalizing here.

There is probably a gender difference on this topic and the very good looking female is impacted differently than the very good looking male. One of the reasons for this is that males tend to be more visual in their initial attraction to a female. Women tend to look more at the whole package rather than just the physical appearance of the man, whereas men will be more singularly focussed on the physical attributes of the woman. This of course varies from man to man and over time it changes. 

Whilst the physical attributes of the female are a high priority initially, over time that changes and moves down the list of priorities for most men and other various personality characteristics move up the list of importance. No matter how good looking the woman may be it is probably safe to say that if the man does not feel a love or personality connection with the woman sooner or later, then he will eventually feel a need to end the relationship.

Hijab women
Beauty and culture

One at times hears the question:

“Can a male and a female ever be just friends?”

My answer is of course they can and it happens all the time. For instance there are many men and women who may have a sexual - romantic attraction to each other and just remain friends. They never act on the psychological attraction because one or both of them may be married or for some other reason. 

The real question should be:

“Can male and female friends never have a sexual romantic attraction in their relationship?”

If the two are of about the same age and they like each other then the answer for the male is probably not. The more good looking the female the more the answer is no.

Perhaps I should clarify what I am talking about here. This is done best with the transactional diagram.

Diagram 6

The vast majority of human communication is unconscious. The beautiful female and the male at a conscious level can quite easily have a slightly flirtatious, sensual component when they are communicating. However I would also suggest that even when that is not happening at the unconscious level it is usually there anyway. 

So the very good looking female rarely experiences adult men with out this in the relationship. They don’t often get to experience a non sexualized relationship with an adult male. In this way their relationships have a superficiality about them whether they like it or not. To clarify this I will provide an unusual example, that of John Merrick. He was the elephant man which was made into a well known movie. He was grotesquely deformed and spent time in freak shows before finally becoming accepted to some degree by main stream society.

In the movie at one point, in great exasperation, he cries out the profound line

"I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I ... am ... a ... man!"

Lamp light

Because of his very unusual physical appearance he comes to realize that many people can never see him beyond his physical appearance. They never see him as a man or person because they can not get past his looks. The same can apply for the beautiful woman. Some men will simply never be able to get past the looks and never see the person she is. It is probably safe to say that many or most men will always be distracted to some degree by the looks away from the person behind the looks. Thus she rarely gets to experience a non sexualized relationship with an adult male.

This occurs as a result of the males reaction to her. Some would argue that men are hard wired to respond to attractive women in that way. However maybe it is not all just one sided.

When such females reach adolescence they quickly learn that their physical beauty can get some (many) men to give them special treatment that they would not give so much to other women or males. They quickly learn their beauty is a powerful tool that works to get them special treatment. As she grows she may find this occurs often and consistently such that it becomes a habitual and ingrained way for her to relate with men. She will use her looks to get special treatment even when she is not aware she is doing so. Thus, should she even want a non sexualized relationship with a male she may struggle to do so because that way of relating for her has now become an ingrained habit. So she is left stuck with a quite repetitious and unvarying way of relating to a significant section of the worlds population.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Book review

Click on the review for a larger view
Review of drug and alcohol use book
shark swimmer


Sunday, March 10, 2013

International women's day

I am not sure if this will get me into trouble or not.

The other day was women's day and the local newspaper here did a big spread on a local woman called Fiona Wood. She has been Australian of the year and is a high profile woman. She runs a successful medical practice and business that develops new products like spray on skin for burns victims. She specializes in burns and was at the forefront when all the burns victims from the Bali bombing arrived in Australia. She is also the mother of five children.

Family on bike
With a young family it is often like this. 

The newspaper had a photograph of her hard at work and another photograph where she was surrounded by her five smiling children. The article was how she claimed she had been able to maintain a busy high powered work life and have five children where she could also meet their psychological needs over the years. She was putting herself out there as a woman who did this and being a model for all other women who wanted to do the same. 

In my view she does not help women in general and indeed perpetuates the problem. Most days I work I counsel women and their children. A common theme of what these mother’s present is guilt about what they have and have not done with their children along with their desire to fulfill their own work life aspirations. This can cause a great deal of angst for some women.

Fiona Wood claims she has been able to do both successfully and puts here self out there in public for other women to see. That is a big claim to make, that may or may not be true. I have had two children of my own and I know how much time it takes. I can recall making the decision when they were both very young that I would put the development of my career on hold as it would simply take me away from the children too much. I did not see how it was possible to have a very active career and be around the children enough to meet their psychological needs in relationship to a father. And I only had two children and I was the guy (not the mother)!

Knocked up nun

So the claims Fiona Wood makes are either not true or if they are true then she has very exceptional abilities at organization and being able to meet children’s psychological needs in a way which the vast majority of other people can not do, including me. Which ever one it is I do know that many of the mother’s I counsel are going to read the newspaper article and realize they cannot do what Fiona Wood claims she can. They are then going to feel guilt, bad about themselves, they can not do what others can do, they must not be trying hard enough, and so forth. Basically it is going to make them psychologically worse off.

It is well known the damage supermodels can do to the psyche of women. They are put out there in magazines with bodies that the vast majority of women can never have because they are not built that way.

Fiona Wood is the same. She is a kind of supermodel working mother that other women can aspire to. In my view the average woman can not ever achieve what Fiona Wood claims she and thus we have the same damage caused to the women’s psyche as the bodies of supermodels do. They are left feeling not as good as, or yet again a failure.