How to Effectively Manage “Put Downs” and Criticism

(published in Bonjour France Magazine Nov 17)

Dealing with put downs, insults, and criticism can be a challenging task. Sometimes we are able to shrug it off and move on, other times however,  things can stay with us for much longer.

Just like everyone else, I have been no stranger to being on the receiving end of some negative comments from time to time, and I won’t lie and say that some of them haven’t been harder to get over (and some still get my blood boiling when I think of them). We can’t skip through life without hearing any negative feedback. On the contrary, being challenged on who we are and what we do, can often be a great exercise of self reflection  and personal development. Nevertheless, what we can do, is find ways for us to cope with put downs:

The people who put you down 

People who spend the majority of their time putting down others, are often very insecure in their own lives. They either feel the need to give the impression they are in control or to cover up their own insecurities.

These may sound like excuses to justify someone’s bad behaviour, but by better understanding the kind of person we are dealing with, allows us to gain a clearer perspective when responding to them.

The different forms of put-downs 

Put downs can come in many forms and happen far more often than we realise. Some of them may be slips of the tongue or a misplaced joke, and some of them are put out there with the intend to harm.

“It’s just a joke” Put Downs

People might try out a negative comment or strike, and when we react defensively, hide it behind a joke. Again a useful tactic allowing them to say what they wanted to say, but deflecting off themselves by depicting you as the unreasonable one who can’t take a joke…

“I’m just being honest” Put Downs

The new-found praise for people who ‘tell it like it is’, has taken a slight turn these days for the negative (eg: Trump) giving some people the false illusion that this means they can say whatever lies on their mind. As much as being genuine and honest is an admirable trait, we still need to think before we speak and look at the possible consequences our words may have on others. Just because we think something, doesn’t always mean it needs to heard.

Direct and hurtful Put Downs

These are self explanatory. Put downs like these are comment with the sole purpose of upsetting others. Examples include: “You’ll never amount to anything”, “nobody would love you like that”, guilt tripping etc

Put Downs in Advertising

I think it’s safe to say that most of us who watch commercial TV, open a magazine or walk around stores; have been made to feel like they are too fat/skinny, not fit enough, not lazy enough, our houses/laundry isn’t clean enough and heck… pretty much every time I open my Facebook feed there is some household product or food that is giving me cancer unless I follow these 5 steps..

Advertising is designed to make us want more, make what we have better, and buy things we might not need..

Ways to Respond 

George Carlin quoted “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ll drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience”.  By biting back with an equally hurtful or negative put down, you’re only sinking to their level, which is exactly the outcome they are looking for. Showing that a comment upset you, to a point where retaliation seems like the only option, is exactly what they want. They dig deep for a reaction, and they get one.

Ofcourse that doesn’t mean we need to play the eternal doormat and take the negativity on the chin, but there are other ways we could proactively or effectively respond that might decrease or (if we’re really lucky) eliminate) the put downs.

1. Let it go

That’s right, play it like Elza and channel Disney’s ‘Frozen’ (I have a 4 year old :/)  and try to just “let it goo-oo”. Sometimes things are best worth letting go merely for the fact that they are very heavy. Someone’s comment might deeply hurt you, but will it still be relevant in a year’s time? Is there even truth behind the put-down that could rear it’s ugly head again? No? Then try to walk away from it, you’ll be a better person for it. And as mentioned earlier, the lack of reaction from your part will only show them their negative feedback has no impact on you.

2. Thank them

A very simple ‘thank you for your opinion’ can be a very curt and confident way to show them that their comments were heard, without giving them any indication of how the comments were received. Rather than the expected angry or defensive come-back, they are greeted with a firm ‘thanks’ essentially ending the conversation.

3. Laugh it off

When someone tries to get a rise out of you, laughing could possibly well be the best medicine.

Laughing along with it might feel like you are enabling the behaviour, but reacting strongly to it might motivate them even more to ‘get under your skin’.

It’s not always the solution, sometimes their ‘jokes’ really do hurt your feelings as perhaps some truth could lie beneath them, but when you can laugh it off, it will only help strengthen your own insecurity on the matter as well.

4. Call them out on it and talk

Sometimes, when all else fails, we might actually need to have ‘the talk’. If this person is someone we are required to deal with on a regular basis (colleague, friend, family, etc) the build-up of negative comments could lead to an angry outburst that in the end causes more damage than the initial comments.

You can confront someone without being aggressive or stoop to their level.  Simply and calmly state that you do not appreciate these kind of comments and await their response. In a lot of cases people might not even be aware they are doing it nor realise how significant the impact of their words can be.

If the person retaliates or does not take some form of responsibility for their actions, then at least you know you tried and you can find ways to eliminate them out of your life (no… not kill… just walk away from the connection) or if this is not an option to minimize the exposure to their negativity and to you.

Things to consider 

Of course, not everyone is out to get you and often someone’s negative comment may be perceived far stronger than it’s initial intent. It’s important we ask ourselves the question if that person really is trying to put us down or if we are somehow interpreting it as one. If we had a negative experience with someone in the past, perhaps we might be a bit more sensitive to what they say in the future.

We also need to consider age, culture and background when hearing others give us negative feedback… When living in Hong Kong, pretty much every older Asian woman would have a negative comment about how I dressed my baby, carried her or what I fed her. It took me a while to accept that this is just a cultural thing and it was not worth jumping on every titbit that was thrown my way. I ended up smiling and just walking away or in some cases I ‘thanked them for their opinion’ and left it at that. (of course I was still frustrated, but not enough to start a battle).

‘Being offended’ also seems to be the new rage these days, where we can’t say anything anymore without hurting a little some people’s feelings. So just be mindful of boundaries… in both directions.

Your peace of mind is more important than listening to negative (non-constructive) comments and wondering why they were said in the first place.

If you can’t do anything about it, then find a way to move away from it and let it go

Ofcourse easier said than done, but worth a try …

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A ‘battle of the Sexes’ or is it really?

As I don’t mind the challenge of diving into a controversial topic once in a while, please note that this blog post has been written as an opinion piece, solely from the point of view of the writer (and some of the writer’s friends 😉  I wanted to discuss the so-called ‘battle of the sexes’ and how I’m starting to feel that the true battles women (and men) deal with on a daily basis are increasingly being dominated and (falsely) linked with an ever growing hype of over-sensitivity and Femi-Nazism (a term used to describe ‘radical feminists’).

I feel the word ‘feminism’ has been tainted. What started as a movement for gender equality seems to be overshadowed by the ‘extreme feminist’ who views anyone who thinks differently as the enemy. It’s a darn shame, because true feminism does not condemn men for being the cause of everything bad in the world nor does it encourage us to storm the streets in our bras because ‘no man will ever tell me what to wear!’ They are the reason why a lot of us are shying away from modern feminism and referring to ourselves more as “equalists” rather than “feminists”.

I don’t believe one sex is superior to the other. We all excel in different areas of life and other than some biological perks (like carrying a child, the ability to have multiple orgasms or peeing standing up) I don’t think our gender is the main contributor to our strengths nor our weaknesses.

An Example: The recent (increased) awareness of sexual harassment

After the recent Weinstein scandal, an increased awareness of sexual harassment and abuse spread on social media like wildfire, with women worldwide sharing their stories. This triggered a huge rethink of attitudes towards sexual harassment in and outside the workplace. Here in France, gender equality Minister Schiappa kicked off nationwide consultations over a law due to be completed early next year that will include steps to fight sexual harassment on the streets as well (Reuters, Oct 2017).

I see this law as an excellent step forward to ‘outing’ this kind of behavior and creating a zero tolerance to any kind of violence and harassment. However, as I mentioned earlier, our often hyper-sensitive society (who just loooves to get so easily offended these days) seems to be creating a blurred image of what exactly the term ‘harassment ‘stands for, consequently obstructing (rather than helping) the essential goal of such a law.

When interviewing people to get some background for this blog post, I was met with a range of opinions to try and get a holistic view on the topic. The one opinion that seemed to repeat itself continuously, however, was the fact that some radicals had jumped on the hype wagon and had derailed this whole ‘harassment thing’ off its original course, turning it into a witch hunt at work and on the street, taking away from those who truly had had a genuine, traumatic experience.

Some had the concern that their own harassment/assault claims would no longer be taken seriously, because of the “hype” (really?? All this work and bravery from people sharing their stories, only for it to be seen as ‘hype’?) Others stated they are now reluctant to even joke around in the workplace out of fear it would be interpreted as harassment.  This is the exact opposite of what was intended, and I blame the radical side, as well as and the rest who are being swept up in the hype along with them.

It’s important to differentiate between what is ‘annoying’ and what is ‘harassment’.  Harassment is generally identified as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms or puts a person in fear of their safety.  Whereas annoying someone, albeit a pain in the ass, is not intended to hurt or scare anyone; it may actually be unintentional.

This is where people are getting concerned that ‘radical feminists’ might blur the two together and anything now is open for interpretation. A man whistling at a woman on the street (or vice versa, because that happens too) is not the same thing as a man physically grabbing a woman on the street or hindering her way to intimidate her. Asking someone out at a bar (or if you’re brave enough, at work) should not be immediately seen as harassment (if the answer is no and the person persists, then we’re getting into that grey area) but don’t persecute someone for having a fair go at first. And last but not least, if someone’s behavior is in a grey area and you’re not sure if they intended to make you feel uncomfortable, there is nothing wrong with telling the person directly how you feel. Easier said than done I know, but don’t send poor Joe to Human Resources straight away if you didn’t like his borderline sexist joke …

Being annoying is well…. annoying… but it is not a crime. People need to remember when you accuse someone of sexual assault, it’s a big deal!

Gender Stereotypes have changed

I am lucky to have been raised by a set of parents who took on the task of raising a family and living life as a team. Never was the sentence “that’s a woman/man’s job” uttered in our household, nor were we ever actively raised that all things should be equal… things just were. I’m aware that that may not have been the case for everyone, but I’d like to think that my generation (the microgeneration between Gen Y and X) has already seen a huge shift in gender stereotypes while growing up.

In general, men today, are not who they were two generations ago. They do not expect their meals to be on the table, they actively contribute in parenting duties (including poopy diapers), and although some might dabble and joke around, none of them truly expect to be living out an episode of ‘Mad Men’.

Just like that, nobody gasps in shock either when a woman dives under the car and changes a tire, decided to choose a career over family or is the main breadwinner at home.

We’re all living together as a team, making up for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Sure, we don’t always see eye to eye, but we’re making it work.

I’m not denying that there are still parts of the world where this is just not the case, nor am I saying that there are no ongoing issues when it comes to gender equality… far from it! But things, really for the first world, are not that bad and we should not take it for granted.

Double Standards

Although things are going fine in the scheme of things, I believe double standards are still present where it can be desirable for one group and deplorable for another. It’s these double standards that are typically used by the radical sides as they pick and choose what suits their arguments best.

A man can’t slap a woman (but when she does it I’m sure she had a good reason). Just like discrimination against women is wrong (but discrimination against men is called equal opportunity). Women should not be objectified in magazines; it’s degrading (as we reach for our yearly Hot Firemen Calendar… well done boys, rrrrrrr!)

The coin flips both ways as women are ball busters for asking what time he’ll be home after drinks with the guys (meanwhile, she has 4 missed calls thirty minutes into girls night). Marriage is a way to trap men (and women supposedly ‘won’ the lottery there). That guy slept around and tells dirty jokes… what a legend (same for her… that’s a bit vulgar don’t you think, you dirty slut? 😉

It’s important that we don’t fall into the traps of such double standards as I think the majority of us get along just fine with the opposite sex; and any conflicts are often just as a result of someone’s behavior (i.e. are they being an ass or not) rather than whether they have an extra X or Y chromosome.

So in conclusion to what has been by longest rant yet, men are from Mars, women are from Venus; and there’s nothing wrong with that. We should embrace our differences and focus on equality where it matters. People should be evaluated on their behavior and attitude towards others, not on their gender (nor race/religion/sexual preference … but that’s a whole new topic).

In my books, it doesn’t matter what is between your legs… if you’re nice to me then I’ll be nice to you.

If you continuously harass people in any way or form it’s not because you’re a man or a woman, it’s simply because you’re being an asshole… and both genders have those!

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My Tips on Parenthood: An Open Letter to a Pregnant Sister 

Dearest Sis, 

Not long to go until you welcome your (much awaited) first child! I just can’t put into words how happy I am for you guys, so with this I will put into words the things I have learnt so far… 

Having been a parent for a short 4 years and two kids later, makes me (according to some mommy forums) yep… a basic expert. You know, just like binging ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ pretty much makes one a surgeon or following ‘Master Chef’ suddenly turns us into culinary wizards… 

1. It’s all Trial and Error 

Here’s the first secret… none of us really know what we’re doing. Ofcourse, we’re reading up on things, consulting with professionals and rely on other parents’ experiences… so we’re not totally lost… but we’re pretty much making it all up as we go along 

2. People will have an Opinion on your Parenting, no Matter what you Do. 

We can’t help but have an opinion, it’s in our nature and it’s what makes us such complex beings. Some, however, struggle with keeping said opinions to themselves. Sometimes it comes out as constructive criticism and might actually help you, other times it’s just a jab because you don’t do things the way ‘they’ would. Let it all roll off your back (easier said than done, I know), filter out the useful stuff, discuss with your partner and do what you want anyway … 

3. Every grandparent in the world; no matter which background, race, culture or season; will think your child is dressed either too hot or too cold 

It only shows they care … Their parents did it to them, and we sure as heck will do it to our own one day 😉 

4. Communication is Key 

If I can promote one thing (yep, here comes the advice and opinions) it’s to talk with your kids.. a lot! Narrate what you’re doing when they are babies… they love hearing your voice and it only helps them develop language skills even better. Later on, ask them how their day was (even the little, trivial stories, matter). It creates a safe and open environment at home because they know they can tell you everything. And as teenagers and adults, continue that communication… if there’s anger or an issue, talk about it and resolve it together. If something’s funny, laugh together and if you’re sad, support each other. 

5. Trust your Gut 

Nobody will know your child better than you guys, so trust your instincts 

6. The Ever so Intense Topic of Breastfeeding 

We live in a world of online forums, social media and countless of scary articles that tell us we’re pretty much doing a shit job. So here’s this… you want to breastfeed? good. You don’t want to breastfeed? good. You want to do both? good. As long as that baby is fed, cared for and loved, you pretty much got this 

7. Mix and Match Parenting Styles 

You don’t need to be intensely passionate about one style and one style only (if you are, there’s nothing wrong with that either) Parenting styles could be like a ‘buffet’, where you pick and choose the things that work for you and your child. There is NO one-good-the-only-way parenting style out there… Every child and every parent is different and while one thing may work wonders for one family, it doesn’t always necessarily work for another. 

8. Everything in Moderation 

Your kid won’t get a misshaped hip from using a walker or baby carrier… granted he’s not in there all the live long day. Your baby won’t get traumatized if you let her cry a little, granted you keep it to a reasonable time and she’s not in pain or anything like that (see point: trust your gut). Your child won’t become an entitled little feral kid if you loosen your grip, just have a few boundaries in place for their own safety. And I can keep going, because there are strong opinions on literally e.ve.ry.thing you do as a parent …. Just go with what you’re comfortable with and use common sense. 

9. Some days your kid is just an a-hole…. and that’s ok 

The days (and nights) will happen where your child is upset, grumpy, angry etc and there is no way of telling ‘why’… you’ve tried everything and they are just …well…pissed off! Sometimes kids don’t yet have the means to process certain feelings so they do so the only way they know how… by ‘acting out’. Some days they’re just in a foul mood (like adults) and again… they ‘act out’. 
At first we try and find a reason/excuse: “oh, he’s real tired he missed a nap”, “she’s been a bit ill lately” , “it must be the change in weather” etc etc *whilst we embarrassingly avoid other people’s judgy looks* …. It took me a long time to get over that and to get to a point where I can just safely admit “nope, today’s she’s just an asshole” and I’ll try and ride it out as calmly as I can (side note: ofcourse I don’t tell my kids they’re being an asshole…. at least not to their face) 

10. Some days you’ll lose yourself… that’s ok too 

I’ve lost count of the amount of times where I didn’t recognize myself anymore as I got swallowed whole by the concept of ‘being a mom’. Days where I felt guilty for returning to work and not being home, days where I hated how my body looked now, days where I felt that all I was there for was to just care for these little monkeys, days where I felt that the successful psychologist I once thought I was had now been replaced by a bonafide soccer mom and the list keeps going… 
That’s ok too… it’s not always meant to be easy and it’s a huge change! But just because you struggle with it from time to time doesn’t mean it is a bad change! We all have off days where we feel like shit (you don’t need to be a parent for that ..) 

So with these 10 points, my little sis, I wish you all the luck in this next adventure! Take from them what you want, add your own spin and just love the crap out of your child. Cause in the end, thAt’s what matters the most! 

You’re going to be an amazing mom and I’ll be there for you when you need to laugh, cry, vent, yell or just plain ‘gooh’ and ‘gaah’ at every cute little noise these little minions make… 

Lots of love, 

7 Ways to Teach our Kids Resilience

image1We can’t change the fact that our children will face certain challenges in life, and we also can’t protect them from every little bump they’ll experience along the way (even though we might want to). With our increased sense of wanting to protect our young ones from life’s growing stressors, we are also seeing a spike in children who develop mental health issues such as generalized anxiety and depression.

(NOTE: This does not include the concerning rate of children being misdiagnosed at the first sign of ‘abnormal behavior’.. which, if you ask me, is a problem i itself and could use it’s own blog post …but later). I’m referring to how we are starting to see more and more children significantly struggling to cope when life doesn’t go their way.

Just like adults, children need an outlet to vent any frustration, anger or sadness (which often comes in the form of a lovely tantrum…. usually in the middle of a busy supermarket 😉  Of course, these are just part of the joys of parenthood, and take on various forms well into adolescence.  There’s nothing to worry about when your child ‘cracks it’ once in a while. But when significant reactions  immediately impact their lives, such as generalized anxiety, panic attacks, severe low self esteem, unrealistic expectations and in some cases even self-harming, it becomes hard to ignore.

Of course, as parents, we don’t want to create these ‘special snowflakes’ that feel like the world owes them and can’t handle negative feedback or hurdles that stand in their way. However, with the increasing urge to micro-manage children’s lives and to ‘protect’ them from common life challenges such as conflict, loss, rejection, failure and change; some parents unintentionally engineer such an outcome according to US clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel. 

She suggests that some parents coddle their children too much, which prevents them from learning from these experiences. “They need to learn from a shallow best friend, an uninspired teacher, or a bad situation. They need to learn these things without us interfering” (Mogel).

Kicking a young child out of the nest and letting them fend for themselves is not necessary, however, helping them build resilience will aid them in managing difficult situations later in life. Resilience is something they can learn and grow from as they develop a certain set of skills that help them tackle the ups and downs in life.

So instead of overprotecting them, or leaving them to fight their own battles, how do we find a balanced way to teach resiliency skills? Below are some suggestions taken from various research articles that have proven to be quite effective.

1. Let them struggle

While your help is much appreciated, it is equally important to let children feel frustrated, so they will attempt to find different solutions to the problem. This can range from your 4 year old’s irritation at her Lego blocks ,because she can’t find the piece that fits: to the university student who can’t handle living on their own because they’ve never had to manage any roadblocks in life before. Let your child find their own way to manage a difficult situation (even if you have the answer ready for them) and be there as their guide rather than doing the job for them. My mother once said ‘sometimes you need to watch your child fall down and scrape their knee so they learn to be more careful next time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there to help you back up again’ which really stuck by me.

2. Challenge Negativity 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of us, during our teens, have used the expression ‘this is ruining my life’ at least once. Children (and teenagers in particular) tend to amplify certain setbacks they experience, as they don’t fully understand yet what is happening to them or how to deal with it. Setbacks that might appear minor to us (such as a fight with a friend or missing out on joining a team) might feel like it’s the end of the world as they know it. It’s important not to feed into that and join the drama party, nor can we minimize or push aside what they are experiencing. Ask your child if this one event needs to effect the rest of their day/week/month. Problem solving starts with going through the options, help them take a step back and put things in perspective. Allow them to experience and feel the negativity whilst averting them from being completely swallowed up by it.

3. Take on the ‘big family mindset’ 

Today, the average family consists of one or two children and it’s affecting our parenting style, says columnist Julie Beun. In larger families, parents tend to be more of a facilitator than a micro-manager. The children get more of a chance to be independent problem solvers as they help raise their siblings, get themselves dressed in the morning and eat breakfast. In smaller families, the parents tend to ‘take care of everything’, and although this may make things run smoother, it doesn’t always work in our favor. We need to learn how to take a step back and let our children figure it out (no matter how frustrating it may be waiting around for them to zip up their jacket or put the shoe on the right foot… our time constraints should not get in the way of our child learning how to take care of the little things).

4. When at first they don’t succeed, get back up again 

Like the age old adult expression “sh*it happens” it’s ok to tell our children that mistakes happen (perhaps substitute the word “sh*t” for the time being though 😉  Hall says, we need to tell them it’s ok to make mistakes because it gives us a chance to learn from them. Together with our children, we can ask them what we learnt from our mistakes and how we would do things differently. With smaller children, an in-depth analytical approach might be a bit too much, but a simple “oops, I made a mistake, I will do this to fix it’ could work just fine in showing them how to cope with mistakes and set backs.

5. Confidence in their Competence 

A child’s confidence stems from their competence, and their competences are excelled by their confidence. Focusing on your child’s qualities as well as recognizing their mistakes and how they handled them are a great first step. Comparing them to others (siblings, peers, etc) might create unnecessary competition, rather than showing that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, the desire to protect our children might give them the (unintended) impression that we don’t think they have what it takes to tackle an issue head on, hence trying to empower them to make decisions of their own lets us be there as their guide rather than their carer. In saying that, it’s also important to not push our children to take on things they can’t realistically handle just yet.

6. Being part of a community 

Being resilient is also about knowing and understanding our place in the bigger scheme of things, and that not everything is always handed to us on a silver platter. Having our children do small chores can be a great example of developing this sense of being part of something bigger, being part of a team (and also shows that we often have to work to get things done). Children first learn their contribution counts by doing household chores (young children could feed the dog or put things in the trash , whereas older children can help clean a room or do laundry). It can help them with their problem solving and self regulation says Hall.

7. Teach them how to calm themselves 

When children get upset (especially younger children) it’s easy for a small upset to turn into a full blown epic tantrum. That’s because they don’t know how else to express their anger/sadness/frustration just yet. Reasoning with an upset, young child might not be as easy as trying to reason with an adult. Rather, teach them easy and realistic ways to calm themselves down first, before taking a closer look at what upset them. One of the more popular ways to calm ourselves down (in both children and adults alike) is taking a few deep breaths, breathing into our nose and out of our mouth. This can be easily taught to a small child and done together if they need you there to guide them. Another way to try and help a child bring themselves down from an upset is to count to twenty (or however high they can count) allowing them to shift focus to the task at hand instead of the stressor that upset them in the first place (they essentially break the cycle and engage their brain). Once they have managed to calm themselves down, they have now acquired a new skill that will also help them to reflect instead of react.

8. Discipline is about Teaching, not Controlling or Punishing

Sometimes, when I say we ‘discipline’ our children, people tend to jump to the conclusion that discipline means to control or punish them. I strongly disagree with that stereotype, as disciplining needs to be seen as teaching a child (which can be done without control or punishment). Using discipline to help your child understand that their actions result in certain consequences, could help them understand that they also have the ability to bounce back from a setback.
Dr. Ginsburg summarizes what we know for sure about the development in resilience in children, which is that our children need to know that there is an adult in their life (mother, father, stepparent, grandparent, you name it) who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
Stress is a part of life, and an important tool in our survival. Resilience is the set of skills that develops a positive and proactive attitude towards stress, and helps us deal with stress, which greatly impact how it affects us. We can grow and encourage  resilience in our children by participating in their self development, role modeling resiliency and most importantly supporting them unconditionally. Being there for them, no matter what, gives them a solid foundation they can bounce back on when their worlds feels like it’s falling apart. Eventually, they will learn that they can create and grow such a foundation for themselves

Positive Psychology: 9 Habits of Happy People

happypeepsOften, when writing psychology related articles, my topics tend to focus on understanding problem areas, dealing with struggles and how to cope with challenges. The stigma around ‘having a problem’, as being the main reason why someone would need to see a mental health professional, is still very present. However, the study of Positive Psychology (or as some are calling it ‘the science of happiness’) is growing and people are focusing more and more on the strengths that lie beneath and how to access these even before any ‘problems’ arise.

There are literally thousands of books and websites claiming they have the solution on how to live a happy life. I’m sure most, if not all, of them are right in their own way. Happiness is different for everyone and changes significantly throughout our lives as our own priorities change along with it (what made you happy as an adolescent might not do it anymore for you as an adult).

Our personality traits, interest etc also determine our individual definitions of happiness. While one person gets great joy from being surrounded by a large number of friends, another person might prefer to hide in a quiet room and curl up with a book.

I won’t be writing anything that hasn’t been written a million times before, but I thought I would summarise for you the 10 habits I’ve witnessed to be most effective on people’s happiness:

1. Be Kind, Always 

People who cultivate kindness tend to me happier and show less signs of depression. Being kind to others and caring for others, tends to make us feel good ourselves (like they say, there are no selfless good deeds). So not only do you better someone else’s life, but you’re also improving your own in the process.

Being kind, doesn’t mean we need to always go overboard and ‘save’ everyone that crosses our path.. Kindness can be shown in the simplest of forms by acknowledging someone with a smile, wishing someone a good day or reaching out to someone who might need your help (however big or small that help is).  It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

2. Recognise your Strengths and Work with your Weaknesses 

Studies (such as M. Seligman’s research in Positive Psychology) have shown that people who discovered their unique strengths and used them for more than their own personal goals, are generally happier.

I would say this also goes hand in hand with recognising your own weaknesses and working with them, rather than letting them hold you back.

Strengths include, but are certainly not limited to, things such as integrity, critical thinking, humanity, motivation, determination, kindness, open-mindedness and many more.

Weaknesses such as people-pleasing, self criticism, prejudice, discrimination etc should be acknowledged (after all, none of us are prefect), but we can work around or with them in our path to improving ourselves and how we are with others.

3. Mindfulness and Positive Thinking

As a psychologist, the word ‘mindfulness’ and positive thinking, often had some of my patients roll their eyes as they sat back and expected the caricature speech on yoga positions, relaxation exercises and group therapy (even though they’ve all been proven highly effective, but that’s not my point 😉

Mindfulness is focusing on the here and now, and what is around us. It’s being aware of our situation, our feelings around it and the effects they may be causing. Practising mindfulness does not require you to be incredibly spiritual or religious, and it can be done by anyone as it is something we naturally do. However, practising it on a regular basis, allows us to strengthen it as it can help us improve our state of mind.

Positive thinking, in conjunction with being mindful, focuses on our appreciation of the good things we experience and have in life and allows us to better manage the negative flows that often cross our way.

Practising mindfulness does not necessarily require you to be in the seated position surrounded by only quietness. We can be mindful whilst doing every day activities. Pay attention to your breathing, get in touch with your feelings, or get lost in the flow of doing everyday simple activities you enjoy (for me personally, cleaning gets me very relaxed, as I can just ‘switch off’ and focus only on the task at hand) .

4. Laugh 

Laughing truly is the best medicine. Laughing (like exercising) triggers the release of endorphins, which are our body’s feel good chemicals, as well as decreases stress levels and increase our immune cells.

Not only do we see physical benefits form laughter, but it also takes a load of our mental burdens and strengthens our emotional health.

It’s not always easy to find situations in which we can spontaneously burst out in fits of laughter (although the concept of ‘laugh yoga’ is increasingly becoming more popular), but we can find ways to at least spark a grin here and there. Smiling is a good start.. a smile is contagious and can go a long way not just for you but for others as well.

Spend your time with playful people and appreciate the humour in life. It’s important to remember the funny side of things and to appreciate the laughter when it happens.

5. Live healthy and Move 

I could write an entire article alone in this, as everyone has their own definition of what ‘eating healthy’ and ‘exercise’ means.

To put it simply, eating healthy involves eating fresh food, avoiding processed meals, junk food and unhealthy fat/sugar levels. How you want to go about that and to what extreme is your choice. Basically, feed your body what it needs rather than what it wants (ok… from time to time also eat what it wants, because eating a treat often contributes greatly to our happiness as well 😉

Exercise does not mean spending your life in the gym (although if that makes you happy then absolutely go for it!). With exercise here, in order to promote happiness, I mean moving your body every day to get your endorphins going. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking that extra block to avoid taking the bus.

6. Nurture Positive Relationships  

Humans are social animals. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about often has an immediate impact on our levels of happiness. Again, this differs for many people as some are perfectly happy with one or two people close to them whereas others thrive from interacting within a large group.

The number of people in your life isn’t the important aspect here, but rather the effort you put into your relationships that matters.

Social relationships come and go and even the closest of friendships can dissolve in time. Having social relationships takes effort from all parties involved and should not be taken for granted. The focus should not be on ‘how often’ you see someone, but on ‘how meaningful’ it is when you do. Happy people tend to surround themselves with people who make them feel good instead of negative people (misery loves company). Happy people also nurture their relationships by talking about the things that matter and resolving any issues that might come up.

7. Be Inspired to Grow 

There are two different mindsets… People who are ‘fixed in their ways’ and who refuse the notion that they can change because they feel that this is who they are. When confronted with something they don’t know, people with such a mindset might find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about something they feel they can’t handle. When people show a more open-minded approach, it encourages them to learn from and improve their footprint in the world. Open-minded people don’t shy away from a challenge, which in turn builds the tools we need to manage difficulties in life or make necessary adjustments. Challenges are viewed as opportunities, and succeeding in them leaves us feeling happier with ourselves.

8. Find a Balance 

Being happy doesn’t mean we constantly need to walk around with a smile, making us feel as if we slept with a hanger in our mouth. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the bad things, and to complain as we work through them. Life is not  all rainbows and sunshine and we can often find ourselves in a downright sh*t storm. But even a thunder storm helps the tree get rid of dead branches (how’s that for positive visualisation! ha!)

Let yourself feel the negativity, we can’t live without it, but try to find ways not to let yourself drown in it.

For example, after a negative experience, focusing on what you have learnt from it or how you can improve/avoid it in the future, might help in processing it and moving on.

9. Make an Effort  

Happiness that lasts is built through habits. It’s easy to get sucked in by the daily routines and struggles that sometimes impede on our happiness. It’s also hard to sometimes not let go of the negatives and overthink where we went wrong. We can’t sit around and do nothing expecting happiness to fall in our laps, nor can be expect happiness to stay if we don’t actively do things to maintain it. This should not be seen as ‘work’, but rather as seeing that the mere actions of these habits is what makes us feel happy in the first place. This doesn’t mean we can’t allow ourselves to feel the negatives, it just means that, on some days, we might need to push harder to focus on the positives.

If you want to be happier, or want to continue to strengthen your happiness, try out some of the above habits!

Remember, the definition of happiness is different for all of us, so don’t compare yourself with others, but focus on what is important to you in order to increase your everyday ‘happy’ and dive in, head first …

Mommy Ruler’s Day Off : 9 Things Mom Gets To Do When the Kids are out of Town (in pics)

For the first time in what feels like forever, I am home alone for two whole days … That’s right… two.whole.days! My darling hunk of a husband took our daughters to see the grandparents, leaving me to venture on my own for a bit.

Since the birth of our second little monkey , I honestly don’t think I’ve had any ‘me-time’ like this for longer than a few hours, so I decided to make the most of it  ….

Things mom gets to do when the kids are out of town: 

  1. Read, Read, Read !!!

read

2. Shower… in peace 

shower

3. Have the time to blow dry your hair … and feel like a celebrity

dryhair

4. Take… well…. you know… in peace 

toilet

5. Caricature Mani/Pedi 

Pedi

6. Clean Up … (I mean I know it’s a mini-break .. but I wasn’t raised in a barn !)

washing

7. Still working though …. Gotta make the big bucks ….. (hahahahaahahaaha… well…. ‘bucks’ 😉 

work

8. Haven’t been fully alone like this for a while … eek!

bed

9. And of course, spending time documenting your time off and turning it into a blog, because even though you’re loving your new-found freedom, you secretly miss those little monkeys and all the time you spend with them… warts and everything 🙂 

meh

 

 

 

 

Suicidal Ideation: The Red Flags and How You Can Help

(Also published in ‘Bonjour France Magazine’ July, 2017)

PLEASE NOTE : **Although the author of this personal blog is a psychologist, this article is aimed to provide further information and is not the equivalent of therapeutic intervention. If you believe you or someone you know might be suffering from depression/suicidal thoughts, please contact your local suicide support line or a healthcare professional**

For every attempted suicide, there is thought to be one or more people where the thought of suicide is still very present but has never resulted into an actual attempt. With over a half a million people making a suicidal attempt each year, this translates into a huge problem that largely gets ignored.

Suicide or Suicidal thoughts are very complex. They are often a symptom of mental health concerns such as depression paired with life stressors that only exacerbate the idea of feeling hopeless, being lost or feeling like a burden.

Often people who attempt suicide don’t actually want to die, but see it as their only way out.  Sometimes, such attempts might be viewed as a ‘cry for attention’, but they can’t be ignored.  If you’re concerned about someone who might be suicidal or harbor these thoughts, it’s important to take them seriously.

One of the common misconception about suicide states that someone who is determined to end their life will do it one way or another; this is not true. More often than not, people who contemplate suicide give out warning signs (intentional or not) and you may be in a position to help them before they make a decision that can never be taken back.

Even if you see it as merely a ‘cry for attention’ , it is still a cry for help, regardless, and needs to be addressed.

The following signs are no sure indicators that someone will in fact attempt, but they are red flags to keep in mind and address:

Signs of Possible Red flags Concerning Suicidal Thoughts

1.Talking about suicide

One of the most obvious red flags). They might seriously conciser it or casually mention it’s on their minds, but listen. Sometimes (especially amongst teenagers) it could be seen as ‘getting attention’ or being ‘dramatic’. Regardless of our own prejudges or whether we things the person is just going through a bad spell, it’s important to take this seriously and listen to what they have to say.

2. Alcohol and drug abuse.

Often people who are suffering from depression or anxiety turn to alcohol or drugs as a temporary relief of some sorts. Although this might be a quick fix, more often than not substance abuse only escalates the depression/anxiety as the underlying reasons or not addressed. A band aid might stop the bleeding but eventually it peels off. The risk of suicidal thoughts turning into a more realistic action is greatly increased with substance abuse … someone who may not take that step sober, might find themselves with the ‘liquid courage’ or diminished reasoning to push themselves over the edge and take their own lives.

3. Withdrawal from others.

Another red flag is when someone decides to cut themselves off from their friends and family. They become withdrawn and don’t want to talk to anyone about it as they don’t feel it’s worth the effort. Although the withdrawal might again be a temporary fix, it only enhances their isolation and feeling that they are handling all of this on their own

4. Not seeing a future.

When someone says they can’t see a clear future, sometimes may indicate that they have lost all hope for what’s ahead… they might not find themselves strong enough or worthy enough to get out of this bad period they find themselves in. Again, just because someone doesn’t see a clear cut out future, doesn’t make them suicidal, but put together with some of the other signs we are mentioning here, it could also be a red flag

5.’Saying goodbye’

This isn’t always in a form of a letter or note that has come to be so largely associated with suicide. Sometimes people will make fleeting comments like ‘I won’t be around to bother anyone for much longer’, there’s just no way out of this or giving away personal possessions or getting their affairs in order … These may be indicators that they are contemplating life without them in it

6. They are no longer sad, they are numb, which somehow seems worse

Sometimes an eerie ‘calmness’ might come over someone who has made the decision to take their own life. When someone who is usually very social and outgoing suddenly becomes withdrawn and isolated , take note. When someone who is usually rational and careful, displays reckless behaviors. Take note. When someone seems to ‘not care anymore’ about anything. Take note. Perhaps they’re going through a rough time and suicide is not on their mind at all… but you won’t know that for sure until you listen and talk to them

What can I do to help?
You don’t need to be a mental health professional in order to be part of helping someone who is contemplating suicide. Of course professional help is highly recommended to support someone through the underlying issues that are causing them to feel like there are no other options. But before getting them to see a therapist, doctor, counsellor or any other health professional, here are a few things you could do to help them get there:
     1. Be prepared

Make sure you yourself are ready to hear the possible answer that they are indeed planning to end their own life. What actions would you take to help them and prevent them from making that choice. What are your own beliefs around the topic and how would you handle supporting them)

2. Be direct

You may not want to offend them (because we live in a society where we all step on eggshells around each other when it comes to certain topics) but be direct.  People who have such thoughts may not always know how to ask for help, and they might try and push people away as they try and process what’s going through their own minds.  Ask them if they are thinking of suicide… don’t be vague. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean they don’t need help … Prevention is not only about stopping a planned attempt, but about helping someone before they even get to that place

3. Don’t panic and stay calm

Focus on asking questions and get as much information on what is happening in their life that got them to feel they have no way out. Panicking could only escalate the situation and add extra misery to an already chaotic mind. Tough love comments such as ‘the coward way out’, it’s selfish and idiotic can backfire as it will only reinforce their own thoughts of feeling useless and unworthy.  Stay calm and help them through this

4. What can I (not) say

As mentioned before, you don’t need to be a healthcare professional in order to help someone you know or care about, just being supportive and a listening ear can be a great start. However, be mindful about the following : a) don’t be judgmental or guilt-trip: they already feel pretty low about themselves b) saying things like ‘don’t worry, it will get better’ may be said with the best intentions, but it may also make them feel like you are minimizing what they are going through or feeling. What may seem trivial or ‘not as serious’ to you, may feel like the end of the world for them. Try and focus on giving examples of how they could work through this c) Everyone’s story is different so don’t tell them you know what they are going through (even if you had a similar experience). This isn’t about you, it’s about them and acknowledging that you hear it’s tough for them rather than claiming you already know what it’s like.

5. Most importantly, encourage them to seek professional help.

Be it a hotline, a general practitioner or a mental health professional. Show them that they have you there for support no matter what, but that speaking with someone could help them work on possible outcomes to work through this…. A network is stronger than one individual.

Responding in a Crisis Situation

When you feel someone’s suicidal thoughts might be putting them at immediate risk of harm, ask the following questions:

– Do they have a suicide plan

– Do they have the means to carry our their plan? (eg: pills, knives, guns, …)

– Do they know when they would do it?

– Do they intend to take their own life?

If a suicide attempt seems imminent, contact your emergency services or take them to the hospital. Remove all weapons, knives, medication or other potentially lethal object from their environment, and never, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.                                                                              (source: helpguide.org) 

At any one time, people may exhibit many of the warning signs mentioned above, without harboring suicidal thoughts. But a lower rate in a larger population is still a lot of people – and many completed suicides had only a few of the conditions listed above. In a one person to another person situation, all indications of suicidal ideation need to be taken seriously.

Remember, nothing is more terrifying than battling with your own mind every single day.

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We’ve got to stop this “Parent Shaming”

We have got to stop this parent shaming !!!

By a show of hands, who here has been judged, at some point, on their parenting. Now by the same show of hands, who here has judged other parents (*no… you don’t actually have to raise your ha*….. you see what I’m trying to get at here). Call it assessing competition/compatibility or just being plain bitchy, but we’re all guilty of at least thinking it.

Now back in the good old days, judging was done behind each other’s backs and we could just stick to our little groups of people who handled their kids the same way we did. However, fast forward to the Internet age, and on a daily basis my Facebook feed is flooded with propaganda, health articles and ‘new research’ that seems to show me exactly how bad I am doing at this whole parenting thing.

Not only do we have the ‘facts’ (and I use that term oh so lightly), but with that come the many voices that suggest to the rest of us that we’re doing a crappy job. In the age of oversharing on social media and a false sense of anonymity online, people seem to have taken it upon themselves to judge, criticize and sometimes just plain bully others ,without accounting for the consequences their words might bring.

Of course shaming each other seems to be somewhat of a global issue ranging from our religious/political choices, how we view our body image and what foods we prefer to eat (spoiler alert…. it ALL gives you cancer.. apparently.)  With that, I’d like to focus in particular on parent shaming and some of the issues I’ve stumbled upon in my short 3,5 years as a parent of two children (yes, based on the above criteria, that now makes me an expert  😉

1. ‘Fed is best’ (phrase taken from an existing Facebook page)

Both my girls have been bottle fed (*gasp*). They didn’t get any breast milk from the very start (*double gasp*). With the second one we even gave up within the first month (*exists and slams door*). But did you know that I was never able to produce the milk to begin with…. and yes we tried every tip/suggestion/hint we could find or were given… nothing worked. I had the storage… just not the stock. My girls were frustrated, hungry and missed out on bonding with their mom because each feeding session caused more and more stress for all of us (at one point I had a nurse milking me like a cow while another tried to attach my baby to the boob…. very sexy.. and relaxing) In the end, feeding them formula made them just as happy and healthy and we could focus again on the key issue of getting them fed and enjoying the time to bond and love them.

A number of friends have breastfed their babies in public (*gasp*)… they didn’t use a feeding schedule (*double gasp*) and some are even still breastfeeding their toddler (*the crowd goes wild*). But did you know that it makes them feel so much closer to their little ones.. and yes they know formula could do the trick just as much to give them a break…. but they don’t need nor want it. This is their choice and they are happy about that and I don’t see the kids complaining either.

Everyone has their own prerogative on how they feed their children and damnit.. as long as these babies are fed healthy (meaning breast or formula… not whiskey) then they’ll be just fine!

2. Dad’s don’t babysit, they parent

Ok, the breastfeeding can be more relatable to moms (in account of the whole ‘having boobs’ thing) but for too long have I seen the dads be pushed on the bench when it comes to ‘knowing how hard it is to be a parent’. So with this, I would like to do a little shout-out to all the papas out there. Being parents is about being a team, and like any team, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the field. There is no superhero and the silly side-kick when it comes to parenting (although it’d be fun to start wearing our underwear on the outside).

It bothers me when people refer to daddies ‘babysitting’ to give mom a night out, but I don’t see us paying them at the end of the night and sending them on their jolly way for a good night’s sleep afterwards.

And believe it or not, when mommy’s not there, daddy also knows how not to kill the baby, what lyrics go with ‘Do you want to build a Snowman’ and that ‘snugglebut’ is the only teddy that helps them sleep better.

Just like moms no longer want to be seen as the 1950s housewife who gets excited about the new washing machine, dads no longer want to be seen as the authoritarian parent who couldn’t tell the front or back of a diaper if their life depended on it.

3. What if I told you that our babies slept through the night without using controlled crying nor co-sleeping…

When it comes up that our girls slept through the night from 3/4 months onward, I am often immediately greeted with the “Oh, I could never listen to my baby cry it out”. Often, one style of parenting is joined with a number of assumptions linked to that style and we don’t look at the background of the situation or most importantly…. is the kid happy?

We used somewhat of a schedule when feeding our girls (of course if they were really hungry before their scheduled time… we fed them… duh). But having a bit of a routine for both of them when it came to feeding and bedtime seemed to really work for us and them and of course I also take into account the immense amount of luck we’ve had with good nighttime sleepers… a lot of luck.

In saying that, parents who do decide on controlled crying are not sadists who sit outside their baby’s bedroom door and giggle every time the child cries out … like the rest of us, they are just trying out what works best for everyone involved in finding the right way to get our babies to sleep. We might not always agree on other people’s methods, but everyone is trying to just figure it out as we go..

I also know a number of parents who co-sleep, and even though it’s not something we did ourselves, we seen their kids as happy and healthy mini-humans. Yes, the parents are tired, I can’t think of any parent who isn’t, and no, none of them have gotten squashed just yet.. they’re fine!

Again, as long as the kids are happy it’s ok to find a schedule or a method that works for both the parents and the children. Sleep deprivation is just part of the game… find your own way to make it manageable.

4. If you have found the solution, share, don’t shame

I applaud those parents who have found the light and the only true way to parent their babies effectively. I even more so enjoy their regular social media blasts where they share their newfound enlightenment with the clear assumption that the rest of us are all still in the dark and know nothing or are ignorant and resistant to change.

If you find some interesting articles out there, or new research that could interest others, by all means, do share the love! But don’t shame the rest of us for not knowing this obvious valuable piece of information (even though you just read about it only 2 weeks ago yourself).  I’m glad people have found the light and maybe it is indeed the best way to go… if so, give the rest of us a chance to get their on our own … because your smug attitude will just make we want to rebel even more.

(*side note: not everyone sharing an article on parenting is considered a douche, we’ve got the right to speak our minds (this blog post being case in point)

5.  Don’t make up statistics or facts to prove a point

This is where fictional information on the Internet comes to play, or as our buddy D. Trump calls it ‘fake news’. Some people out there are good at relaying their personal opinions as hard facts. An example, chocking and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a big worry for all parents, so please don’t tell a parent that their way to put their child to bed can lead to SIDS unless you have the scientific facts to back you up. We have been told that our use of ‘sleep positioners’ (to stop baby from rolling) could lead to SIDS… bullshit. Some of my co-sleeping friends have been told they could squash and choke their baby while they sleep…. bullshit. We’ll always find that one case where a baby did die etc, but don’t use someone’s horrible (and most likely rare) experience as a statistic to support your opinion on.

6. If you feel very strong about something, that’s fine, but does it need to be said?

In saying that, I feel strongly about this, but vaccines do not cause autism (I’m sorry that is just a scientific fact, we really can’t dispute that one can we?). That doesn’t mean I’ll go hunt down the parents that choose not to vaccinate, nor will I ever confront them about it (however hard it can be). The same goes for people who choose not to have medical, life-saving, interventions for their children because of their religion… I admire doctors who have to deal with this on a regular basis because I know I would struggle at keeping my mouth shut. Again though, this is the parents choice and it sucks big time to see this happen no matter how strongly we disagree with it (I know I do… just write a blog about it instead :p )

As usual, these are all just a compilation of my own personal opinions and suggestions (this being a personal blog and all). If I’ve offended some people with what I wrote please know this was not my intention, but it can be seen as such a ‘taboo’ topic these days that it’s hard to know what you should and shouldn’t write. I guess the main objective I’m trying to get at here is to try and live in a community where we support each other, not to make each other feel bad because we do things differently.

We can’t stop from judging… it’s in our nature.. but think before you speak … is it necessary to say out loud or could we just think it to ourselves?

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*(yep, these our kids watching TV… whaaaaaa?! 😉

The Bystander Effect: Why we don’t always act and what we can do about it

(published in Bonjour France, 19 March 2017)

TheSans titre other day, like many days in this beautiful city, I found myself stuck in the chaos that is the RER A with trains delayed for up to 2 hours. People were naturally frustrated, it being rush hour and all, but someone’s frustration got the better of him as he aggressively lashed out at transport personnel and security was eventually called. Nobody reacted (except for a few head nods) and nobody intervened (myself included).

Our increasingly (false) sense of anonymity, especially when living in a large city, can directly defuse our sense of responsibility as social influence leads us to turn the other cheek when witnessing a distressing situation. Be it out of fear of getting hurt ourselves or just not being aware of the danger the situation poses to someone else, we are more likely to intervene and help someone when no one else is around… in a crowd, we’re a bystander.

The “Bystander Effect” is a psychological phenomenon that refers to situations where people do not offer any kind of help to a victim when other people are present. J. Darley and B Latané first popularised the concept showing how the probability of help can be directly related to the number of bystanders present.

On social media our ‘outrage’ is shown by sharing viral videos of bullying, discrimination and often downright illegal acts against others. We share this with the best intentions to raise awareness and stop things like this from happening again, but when push comes to shove, would we act and help when witnessing such a scenario in real-life?

The Bystander Effect can be seen in many situations from bullying at school or the workplace, harassment in public , to dangerous protests that run out of hand. This does not mean people are scum and we enjoy witnessing others getting hurt.  In many cases, people feel that since there are other people around, surely someone else will leap into action.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why we freeze and refrain from helping others, and what we could do about it?

CAUSES OF BYSTANDER EFFECTS

Fear and uneasiness 

Sometimes we don’t know the entire backstory of what we are witnessing and doubts lead us to question whether we should intervene or not. We are afraid we might make a fool of ourselves if our intervention is not appreciated and we look to our peers for guidance and asses their reactions to the same situation. If nobody else takes action, perhaps we don’t fully understand what is happening and we best mind our own business, right?

Shock

Often when faced with something out of the ordinary, we don’t immediately recognise what is happening nor how to react to it. Our delayed reaction in helping someone in distress could merely be as a result of our brain still processing what it is witnessing.

“Diffusion of Responsibility” 

Research shows when others are around, our personal sense of responsibility decreases. We believe that someone else would have probably called for help already, or is doing something to help. We are more likely to help others if we are alone, as we feel the responsibility to act relies solely on us.

Minimal knowledge or qualifications 

In some cases (especially medical emergencies) we tend to stand back and wait for someone with the right qualifications or experience. We’re afraid we might hurt the person even more as we wait for a professional to intervene.

Minding our own business 

We’ve all experienced or heard stories where someone has tried to help someone in alleged distress, and their good deed went and bit them right back in the bum as they got involved in a tricky situation and got hurt themselves. To avoid any hassles, we turn the other cheek and mind our own business.

Misinterpretation of a situation 

Adding onto the above point, we often look away because we wrongly assess a situation or are influenced by common misconceptions. You’d be surprised at what is considered ‘okay’ these days as we witness a woman being harassed, even though she was flirty earlier; or we watch a man get into a bar fight with two others, but he’d been drinking so perhaps he started it …

Now that we understand some of the reasons why we don’t always jump to act, we could look at ways to overcome this psychological phenomenon and be more aware ourselves.

I’m not suggesting we all go wear superhero capes and go vigilante on anyone showing inappropriate or dangerous behavior, but rather, how can we start with ourselves in diminishing this diffusion of responsibility and engaging in our own helping behaviors?

HOW TO OVERCOME THE BYSTANDER EFFECT?

Awareness

Recognising the signs can make a big difference. Signs can be noticed, by trusting our intuition or educating ourselves on certain topics.

Example: An air hostess was able to recognise the signs of human trafficking on one of her flights when she saw a well-dressed man accompany a raged and distressed teenager. She approached the girl behind the man’s back and quickly found out the girl was being taken away against her will. She was quick to notify police on the ground, who were waiting to interrogate the man as they landed.

Another example, perhaps more recognisable in our everyday life, was when a young woman was being harassed by a man on the metro. He was not being overly aggressive, however, was subtly whispering threats and harassing her physically amongst busy morning commuters who did not seem to take notice, or thought it was a couple having a small dispute. One woman saw the girl’s irritation/anxiety and pretended to know her to strike up a conversation. The man quickly left the girl alone and excited the train.

Sometimes being aware of a situation and acting, however small this may be, could help someone and change the outcome of a potentially negative or dangerous scenario.

Witness or Role model helpful Behavior 

Sometimes we just need to think what we would want people to do, if we were in the “victim’s” situation. What if that had been my daughter, son, friend, parent, sibling… Sometimes just seeing other people doing something kind or helpful makes us more willing to help others.

If we’re too afraid to get hurt ourselves, or we see that our direct intervention would only escalate the situation, call for help.

If we see that action from a few people could deter the ‘attacker’, make eye contact with others and try to solicit a group intervention.

Sometimes making eye contact with or simply acknowledging the ‘attacker’ and their behaviour can be enough.

Education and Training

Knowing specific ways to help in certain situations can often be enough to give us the confidence to act and help. People who have been trained professionally in assisting in emergency situation, often find it second nature to help others where needed.

We don’t need to go and study for years to get the right qualifications in order to help others. Often we can find community training workshops related to sexual assault, self-defense, bullying, recognizing suspicious behaviors etc. Such programs teach us the best (and safest) way to react in certain situations. When all else fails, we can do some personal e-learning online and read up on topics that may interest us.

For example, since the terror attacks in France, campaigns have increasingly informed people on how to recognize, and report suspicious behaviors, abandoned luggage, signs of radicalization and general safety tips in the event of another attack.

Just remember that it only takes one person to stand up and say ‘this is wrong’ in order for others to see it and act too.

Always try to help somebody in whichever way possible, because you might just be the only one …

7 Life-Related New Year Resolutions to strive for

(posted in bonjourfrance.eu, Dec 2016)

It’s that time of the year, when we note down our New Year resolutions with the best intentions of keeping them. But what if we had a look at some resolutions we could all strive for a little more these days, which could have a direct impact on our life and perhaps on the life of those around us?

This is most certainly not an article where I tell people what to do, even though the title indicates a strong suggestion… If anything, these are resolutions I would like to apply more myself and what better way to get motivated than to drag the rest of you along with me!

  1. Be simple

Life is already complicated enough without us adding an extra topping of trouble. Look up anything around ‘simplifying life’ and you’ll read the same rules over and over again: when you miss someone, just call them. Want to see someone again? Invite them over. When you feel you’re not being understood, explain yourself. If you have questions, ask them and if you don’t agree or dislike something, state it..constructively. Just like when you love something or someone… tell it. When you want something… it’s an automatic ‘no’ until you ask. It’s often really just that simple.

Unnecessary mind-games, in my opinion, were reserved for the wonderful world of dating (but that’s another article to write later). It seems like such pretenses have worked their way into our professional and personal lives. Is it because we’re too sensitive and afraid to offend or do we play along because we’re becoming more and more dishonest?

  1. Complain Less

We’ve all been a culprit and it would almost be unrealistic to ask someone to stop complaining. Life is an adventure and will sometimes throw us some doozies, where we can’t not complain. There is nothing wrong with venting our frustrations from time to time, and like the above point suggests, stating something we’re unhappy about can help in simplifying our lives. But let’s keep it at just that. Let’s blow off steam, and then move on. Why complain about the petty things we cannot change? Do we really need to spend more than 20 seconds of resentment when the RER is late… I know, again, or when some idiot cuts us off in traffic (the latter being one I need to practice a bit more myself… I mean is it really that much of a challenge for them to use their indicator when turning?! ugh)

  1. Eat well and move

Ahhh, the all too common ‘I-wont-eat-junk-for-the-entire-year-but-I-secretly-went-to-Macdo-a-month-in-when-no one-was-looking-and-cried-about-it-after’ resolution.  With this I don’t mean to go on a diet of any kind or to starve ourselves from life’s goodies. After all, we live in France and are surrounded by gastronomic treats everywhere we look.

Explore new cuisines and discover herbs and spices or bring a twist to an old favorite. Eating well isn’t limited to only the food, but also focuses on how we eat it. Turn off the TV and have dinner as a family, eat something fresh every day and pour yourself that glass of wine even though it’s a school night.

It’s a scientific fact that physical exercise makes us feel better. We don’t need to hit a gym or run a marathon to experience the extra energy endorphins give us. Take the stairs, avoid the elevator, walk when you get the chance and heck… go jump on the bed (just don’t let your kids catch you)

  1. Hate less, tolerate more

I don’t want to get into a political debate nor dive into the Pandora’s Box that is ‘religion’. Rather, I want to focus on criticizing each other less just because we do things differently. Let’s focus on tolerating each other more rather than jumping to conclusions and spreading even more animosity in an already prejudiced world. There’s enough bad people out there lighting up hate, why add fuel to the fire?

  1. Forgive

I’m not saying to forgive and forget.’ Not forgetting’ teaches us our life lessons and helps us not to make the same mistakes again (even though sometimes we need to make them a few times over before we truly get it). But forgiving is important… not because people always deserve our forgiveness, but because we deserve our own inner peace. Wasn’t it our buddy Buddha who said that anger is like holding onto a hot stone with the intention of throwing it at someone else… we’re the only ones to get burnt. For the sake of our own peace of mind, and no one else’s… let’s learn to let go.

  1. Investigate

Dr. Wayne Dyer states that the ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about, yet refuse to investigate. With all the fake information that seems to be published these days, isn’t it better we get our information from various sources before we make up our own minds?

Based on the random articles that seem to flood our Facebook newsfeed and certain sites these days, we are lead to believe that Paris has ‘no-go, danger zones’, vaccines cause autism, you haven’t’ lived until you’ve cooked with coconut oil and pretty much anything you say, do, or eat gives you cancer (which can all be cured by drinking apple cider vinegar by the by).

Let’s educate ourselves more and not accept everything we hear as immediate fact. We are being spoon fed information every day and it’s up to us to consider which stories are truthful, important and worth sharing with others.

  1. Laugh a little

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Farts are still funny (prrt). Liking a video of a cat stuck in a bathtub while an Australian guy narrates, does not make you any less of an intellectual, and remember that a smile is contagious and could brighten up someone’s day. (Perhaps not so much if you’re staring at them with a huge grin on your face for an extended period of time… in that case you might just freak them out a little bit).

I hope this article got some of you motivated to join me in making our world just a little bit more bearable.

With this I wish everyone a happy Silly Season and a great start to the New Year… see you in 2017!

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