Welcome to Psychology Through the Internet

Hi and welcome to my psychology blog.

Psychology Through the Internet is for anyone dealing with problems like anxiety, depression, confidence, anger, relationships,  or children’s behaviour. That’s most people I guess.

The site has articles on all sorts of psychology topics written in an easy to digest way. Some articles are about the way we think and react, with others and with ourselves. The articles cover common psychological problems, like depression, anxiety, stress, and relationship issues, as well as suggesting strategies and therapies for dealing with these. There’s quite a lot of information on children’s behaviour and relationships. I also touch on aging and immigrating, the impact of diet on the mind, and how to improve sleep.

If you are interested in a particular topic, click one of the category links at the top of the page, or do a search in the SEARCH BOX.

Please send me an email or comment if you have any ideas about other articles you and others might find psychologically helpful and interesting.

I value your feedback and your stories, but please forgive me if I don’t respond quickly to your comments. If you would like to communicate with me speedily or non-publicly, my direct email address is Lorri@lorricraig.com.

 

I offer psychological therapy / counselling/counseling sessions in person for those who live near Brighton and Hove, UK, and online from anywhere on the planet via Skype.  Please email me at lorri@lorricraig.com or call or text me on +44 745 666227 if you want to find out more.

I really hope that you find the site helpful. I look forward to interacting with you.

Warm wishes

Lorri  Craig
Psychologist

SAD? Don’t Let it Get You Down

Winter sunrise can treat winter bluesIn the winter months, many people risk becoming emotionally low, negative, and stressed. Their appetite for high calorie junk food might increase, their libido often goes out the window, and they might feel incredibly lethargic, finding it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise, leave home, or even get out of bed. Contradictorily, they may tend to stay up late or sleep badly.
These are all typical symptoms of depression, but when this cluster of symptoms is triggered in the winter months in susceptible people, it is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

A Survival Mechanism?
It is possible that SAD is an out of date hibernation mechanism; that it is nature’s way of getting us to curl up under skins in our caves and ride out the winter months without expending too much energy. Conserving and storing energy to minimise the need to go outside to fend for the family in the middle of a cold European winter makes survival sense, especially before the invention of cars, trains, cities and supermarkets.
The trouble is that this behaviour is not well adapted to our lives today; what with need to get up and out to nine to five jobs and early classes. On top of this, electricity allows us to work inside all day and stay up way past sunset, so our circadian rhythm, or biological clock, gets out of whack, aggravating the problem.

Light Therapy
Research suggests that one of factors involved in SAD is a reduction of the intensity and duration of sunlight we are exposed to. Many people have been successfully treated for SAD with the introduction of special lights that give off an intense broad spectrum of light, much like the natural light coming from the sun. Some light-therapy lights can even mimic sunrise at an early hour, which basically seems to trick our body into thinking that it is summer and creates a much more pleasant and natural start to the day than blaring alarm clocks in the darkness of the winter morning.
However, if you don’t have access to such a light, you can still improve your condition. Hard as it is, make yourself get out in the daylight for at least half an hour a day, even if it’s cold and overcast. The earlier in the day the better. [See the box below.]

Exercise
Secondly, make yourself exercise. Getting your heart rate up and moving your body is not just good for your physical health, it has been found to be one of the key ways to treat depression and manage stress. If you don’t have time, make time; even 10 minutes a day would make a difference and everyone can afford that. You could combine the daylight therapy and exercise by taking a brisk walk in the early morning light, or walking all or part of the way to work, in lieu of the bus. If neither of these options suits you, or if it really is blowing a gale outside, you could do an indoor exercise routine, such as one of the thousands on youtube. Type in ‘10 minute workout’ into the YouTube search box and you will find a plethora to choose from. Make sure you choose a routine that is suitable for your level of fitness and flexibility [ask your doctor if you are unsure], and vary your choice so that different muscle groups are able to work and rest each day. Force yourself to participate at first, no excuses, until daily exercise eventually becomes part of your routine, as necessary and easy as brushing your teeth.

Eat Well
Watch your diet. Try not to get obsessive about this, but if you find yourself massively overeating the wrong things, stop buying high calorie junk food. Pig out on vegetables. Salads are great, but hot cooked vegetables, especially those that are steamed or in homemade soup, are fine. If you want a sugar hit, try fresh fruit. Again, cook it if you must. If you want a savoury taste, eat meat, eggs, fish or vegetables.
Many people believe that eating foods that are high in Vitamin D, such as oily fish and eggs, can help SAD sufferers. This makes logical sense because our bodies need sunlight to manufacture vitamin D, and vitamin D has been found to be important in the functioning and communication of cells throughout the body, including nerve cells. However, several recent studies have failed to show significant differences between SAD patients who were given vitamin D supplements and those who were not, so the jury is still out on this one.
How to Correct Your Out of Whack Sleep Routine
If you are falling into the habit of staying up and sleeping in later and later through the day, and if you don’t own a broad spectrum SAD light, try this simple solution. Tonight, go to bed a bit earlier than your habit, even if it’s 15 minutes earlier. Be a good parent to yourself about this. Set a deadline and stick to it, even if it means cutting short an amazing computer game or TV programme. Then, set your alarm to wake you up 15 minutes earlier than normal. Perhaps set two alarms and keep the second one a little out of reach so that you have to actually get out of bed to switch it off. Then, and this is the hardest part, get your coat on and get outside in the daylight for 10 minutes, even if the weather is frightful. The trick is to not think about it too much; JUST DO IT. You might want to walk briskly, especially if it’s cold outside [that could be your 10 minute exercise]. Then, after a couple of days of this, go to bed even earlier and set your alarm for 10 or 15 minutes earlier in the morning/daytime. Keep doing this until you have got your circadian rhythm back to normal.

So, in summary, if you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder:
• Get more natural light on your face, especially in the early morning.
• If you can afford it, get a SAD light therapy light and set it to wake you up.
• Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.
• Exercise regularly.
• Eat well.

Correct Bad Sleeping Patterns

For more information on combating symptoms of depression, you might want to look at my ‘How to Feel Happier’ article on this website, and please don’t be afraid to ask a therapist, or your family, friends or GP for help. I hope you have a lovely winter.

Can Parents be too Careful?

 kids fun without parentsOne of the things that really concerns me about the way children are being raised is the degree to which they are wrapped in cotton wool. Children of today are almost constantly supervised by parents and other adults. They rarely get a chance to take physical risks. They don’t get enough exercise. They don’t learn to climb, balance or fall. They are not allowed to use building tools. They are not given the opportunity to problem-solve and make choices concerning their safety. We adults have taken these basic rights away from them.

Think Back

When I was a child most children were able to play unsupervised from a young age. We walked to our friends’ houses or to creeks several blocks away. We walked or rode to school. We climbed trees and fences. We built and played in tree houses. We challenged each other to jump off shed rooves while holding onto an umbrella like Mary Poppins. We had fun! I used to feel quite sorry for a couple of friends back then who had overprotective parents who would not allow them out and about in the same way. They always seemed a little sad, nervous and bored to me, even as a seven year old.

But now, sadly, the whole western world has become like those families. Children are driven everywhere, and have adults restricting and supervising their every move. They are not allowed to take risks.

Health and Safety Madness

I worked in a children’s mental health in schools project a few years ago and was horrified by the health and safety restrictions that were stifling the opportunity for fun and adventure. We did manage to get permission to take a few children fishing in a highly structured and supervised specialised fishing activity centre, but the health and safety paperwork would have filled two shoe boxes, and going anywhere near the ocean was out of the question, even though we were in a seaside town. Schools and councils of today are terrified of law suits, while parents fear being judged as irresponsible. Parents are also scared, of course, that their children will be injured or abducted, but the risks of this have to be balanced against benefits of a more relaxed approach.

What Might be the Consequences of our Risk Intolerance?

Apart from the obvious effects that the lack of exercise and gross motor skill practice can have on the child’s physical development, the psychological consequences of an overprotected childhood can be really dangerous. The world is a risky place, so children need to learn how to manage risk themselves: to assess risk and make good decisions based on likely consequences. By not allowing them to practice these basic skills, we are stifling their cognitive development in this area and are likely to be creating adults who take stupid risks, or anxious people who see their world as a terrifying place to live in.

Parents Teach Children to be Calm or Fearful

Children learn a great deal about the world and themselves from their parents. If their parents tell them with words or actions that the world is a dangerous place that can’t be trusted, and if they are told that they can’t be trusted as people, then they are likely to learn to be fearful and doubt themselves.

When a child is climbing a fence, it is common for parents to shout, ‘Don’t fall!’ or, ‘Get down, you are going to fall!’ The problem is that these comments create that outcome in the child’s mind, so they increase the chances of the child falling. Children are naturally good climbers with a great sense of balance, and practice makes perfect. In most situations it would be better for a parent to calmly say, ‘Good climbing. You are balancing/holding on really well.’

Murderers and Paedophiles

Parents of today fear murderers and paedophiles more than our parents did. But the reality is that the rates of child abduction, which are infinitesimally low if you omit abductions by parents, have not risen over the decades. Paedophile stories are in every newspaper nowadays, and the law is prosecuting more, often retrospectively, but that does not mean that there are more dangerous paedophiles out there. I remember our neighbourhood paedophiles when I was a child. They were the men I, personally, stayed away from, because of my well developed sense of risk. And, of course, there is a certain irony in the fact that by keeping children at home to enhance their physically safety, we are actually exposing them more to paedophiles via the internet.

The Future Meets the Past

I read a great article recently about an innovative playground project that allows children to play in the mud with old tyres, timber and broken chairs, slide down a hill in a bin, and even light fires. Although adults are present, their intervention is very minimal. This gives the children the opportunity to play, problem solve, take risks, experience the consequences first hand, create and explore, while interacting healthily with each other.

What a healthy, happy, fun idea. Let’s allow our kids to do more of this. Let’s allow them to have childhoods worth remembering. Let’s allow them to develop their minds and bodies in ways that help them to face to world, and all its future risks, wisely, competently and calmly, with healthy bodies, smiles on their faces, and twinkles in their eyes.

Depressed, Stressed or Anxious? Take this Self Assessment Quiz

Complete this quick and easy questionnaire to find out whether you could have symptoms of anxiety or depression. These are  very common mental health problems that affect most of us at some time in our lives, either directly, or indirectly through family and friends.

In Britain, it is estimated that 1 in 9 people will have a mental health disorder in any one year, with depression and anxiety being the most common  of these. The World Health Organisation has estimated that over 40% of disability world wide is due to depression and/or anxiety.  These conditions frequently go hand in hand, with a mixture of anxiety and depression being the most common diagnosis given for an anxiety disorder.

If your responses to the following self assessment test indicate that you might have symptoms of depression or anxiety, please take steps to address them. If you only have a few minor symptoms, and they are not affecting your life, then perhaps you  could read some helpful articles on line, including on this site. [Go to the SEARCH box on the top right of the webpage.] If your symptoms are many, or if any of them are interfering with your life, please take some steps to see a professional.

Go ahead, take the quiz now. It’s fast, free, and totally confidential. The results are at the bottom of the test page….




Beat Technology Addiction: Develop Your Inner Parent

Gamer

If you are reading this, then there is a good chance that you spend a fair bit of time on the internet; perhaps a bit too much time?

Time has become one of our most precious personal resources. It’s up there with health, love, intelligence, and beauty, and at least on par with money and possessions for many of us.  It is a limited resource, but it can be budgeted in a way that is best for each individual. The way we like to spend our time is different for each of us and changes over our life cycle.

Technology Sucks Time

Technology has given us more time in some ways, by taking away the need to spend our days doing basic tasks. But technology equally eats up our time. How often do you find yourself staring at a screen, be it on a television, computer or mobile phone?  Sure we are sometimes learning stuff, and sure it sometimes helps us to relax, but most of us do a bit too much screen watching and this can have a detrimental effect on our lives, relationships and health.

Balance Your Passion

Having a passion, something that you really love doing regularly, is a positive thing. Research shows that a having a passion tends to increase positive responses across a whole lot of parameters, including mental health and sense of well-being, physical health, cognitive ability, and success in work and relationships. BUT [and this bit is crucial] this is so only if the person engages in the passion in a balanced way.

If the passion is taking up excessive time and energy in the person’s life, then the indicators will tend to go totally the other way. By that I mean, if somebody has an obsessive passion that they engage in to the detriment of relationships, sleep, exercise or work, then they will tend to score low on parameters like mental health, happiness, cognitive functioning and physical health; not just lower than those with a balanced passion, but much lower than people with no passion. And that goes for people who are obsessively addicted to technology.

 No Off-Switch

An adolescent client of mine recently and wisely pointed out that “kids don’t have an off-switch”; meaning that they can find it difficult to stop whatever they enjoying doing: be it playing computer games, watching TV, texting, talking with friends, social networking, listening to music, taking drugs and alcohol, or, of course, sleeping in. And because they demand more independence, and because their parents usually want to treat them in age appropriate ways, they often end up spending too much time staying up late at night, doing the stuff they enjoy doing.

The problem is that most adolescents have not yet adequately internalised their inner parent. They are very good at focusing on the moment, and unbothered in that moment by future negative consequences, such as feeling tired the next day. Their inner child wants to rebel against the restraints of their childhood and do what they have never been allowed to do in the past: stay up late and play.

But teenagers are not the only people who have not properly integrated their inner parent. Our society full of adults who are ruled by their inner child; who are obsessively addicted to staying up late, watching television, internet surfing, pornography searching, social networking, gambling, and gaming.

Addicted to Computer Games

Addiction to games is one of the significant growing problems of this century, and, like most behaviour addictions or compulsive behaviours, it indicates an ineffectual inner parent. Compulsive gamers can become focused on the instant gratification of the game. It feels good in that moment, and takes them away from the everyday stresses of life, but, ironically, their behaviour can actually increase the stresses they experience in other aspects of their lives.  Addicted gamers might spend several hours a day [or night] playing online games, leaving little time for adequate work, study, exercise, sleep, nutrition, social interaction [outside the game, that is] and family. Their inner child is having fun, so does not want to stop.

The Effect on Relationships

Internet forums are full of complaints and cries for help from the frustrated partners [usually girlfriends and wives] of Gamers, and I have seen quite a few in my clinic over the years.

Partners frequently complain that the more they ask or demand that the Gamer stop playing, come to bed with them, spend more time with them, spend more time with the children, or simply get out in the sun, eat a proper meal or have a shower, the more likely the Gamer is to dig their heals in and refuse.  Eventually partners leave, children are damaged, friends give up, bosses lose patience, and bodies turn to blubber.

How to Develop Your Inner Parent

The first step to getting your life in balance is to want to.

The next step is to develop your inner parent; the part of you who says, “I’m off to bed now, so that I can be  really with it in the meeting tomorrow,” and who actually turns the computer off and goes to the bathroom and bed.  Or, when the alarm goes in the morning, jumps out of bed an hour earlier than usual to meditate and exercise.   The inner parent is much better at coping with delayed gratification than the inner child.

Remember that the inner parent and inner child are not enemies; they are batting for the same team. Try to get them to communicate, understand, and compromise, which means have fun and be a little naughty and light sometimes, but remember the adult needs to be in charge and have the final say.

The inner parent can use praise and even small rewards to encourage mature, balanced behaviour.

Like all children, our inner child thrives on structure and routine. A no-nonsense routine, with named time slots, can reduce the chances of the inner child trying to negotiate and bargain their way out of doing what’s good for them, provided that the routine and task goals are comfortably achievable.

Rebelling is Giving Away Your Power

Rebellion is another sign that your inner child is dominating. When you get the urge to rebel against the wishes of your partner or other loved one when they ask you to stop your behaviour, remember that they are truly concerned about you, and/or worried about the impact on them or others; they not just trying to wield their power for the sake of it.  Also, every time you rebel, you are actually giving your personal power away, because you are limiting your choices and actions to those that contradict the person you are rebelling against.

Therapy Can Help

If you are really struggling to control your technology addictive behaviour, it might be helpful to book an appointment with a therapist. A bit of psychological tweaking can hlep you to strengthen your strategies and resolve, as well as clear any underlying problems that might be unconsciously fuelling your behaviour.

Balance

Remember, balance and moderation is the key. For many people this can mean breaking routine rules now and then for a treat, but for others any lapse in rules can lead to a major relapse in their addictive behaviour, so rules need to incorporate fun and balance.  Each of us must determine the best way to manage our inner child, while keeping our inner parent firmly, but lovingly, in charge.

The Challenge of the Autistic Child

angry autistic boy ASD

I sometimes try to imagine what it would like to be a child with an Autistism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]. To the child with autism the world can often be incredibly irritating, loud, uncomfortable, scary and confusing.

Imagine being in a crowded space, with lots of bright, flashing lights; loud, piercing noises; people crowding in, yelling at you and each other in a language you can’t understand; horrid, overpowering smells; and, amidst it all, someone beside you screams piercingly in your ear. [That actually sounds like places I have paid money to get into!! :-)]

Then imagine you try to get someone to help you to escape, but they don’t understand you or won’t listen. You are powerless and frustrated and scared. You try harder to get your wishes met, you shout, you scream; your terror and frustration rising.

Welcome to the world of the autistic child.

 

Environmental Triggers

It is not always as bad as this. Often the autistic child is quite relaxed and happy. It all depends on the place, the child’s  personality, their  emotional state at the time, and precursors or triggers that might have contributed to their  sense of frustration or fear. These factors can increase the charge in the child’s already over sensitive nervous system, making even the mildest sensory experience, or smallest fear or frustration, seem unbearable.

Each child will have different things that set them off. The variety is unlimited, but triggers can include sounds, lights, smells, crowds, pain, uncomfortable clothes or shoes, hunger, perceived abandonment, a judgemental look, a hurtful comment, a confusing social interaction or instruction, a nightmare, an unplanned event, or, very commonly, not being able to have or do what they want to.

“The autistic child is often operating just below the red zone.”

These sorts of things can stress us all out, and all of us are capable of losing the plot at times, but the autistic child is often operating just below the red zone, so it doesn’t take much to tip them way over the edge. And triggers can impact abruptly, or build up gradually and cumulatively, until the child can suddenly no longer cope.

The autistic child’s angry and/or frightened reactions can be very confusing and frustrating for the child’s family, friends and teachers. I have heard many parents describe their autistic child as like Jekyll and Hyde. One minute they seem relaxed and happy, the next, World War Three strikes.  And this can happen in the most embarrassing places, such as in a shopping centre or at a social gathering, which adds to the parent’s horror and frustration.

Variation in the Autistic Spectrum

Not all autistic children are equal in their levels of sensitivity, or in their reactions to discomfort or frustration. It depends on each child’s own unique neurological peculiarities, as well as their personality and experiences. The autistic spectrum incorporates a huge range of function, anxiety, sensory sensitivity, communication skills, and emotional regulation.

Also, like all children, children on the Autism Spectrum usually get better at managing their emotions as they get older, with the exception of the hormonal pubescent years, which can decrease frustration tolerance and increase the intensity of emotional responses, as is typical in any adolescent child, although sometimes more so for the ASD child. Some ASD adolescents can be very aggressive and difficult to manage, particularly as they grow in physical strength and stature, whilst some have no bigger emotional meltdowns than non ASD young people. Others tend to internalise their responses, or avoid uncomfortable situations, becoming increasingly withdrawn and moody, again, like a lot of teenagers, only more so.

Communication Problems

ASD children can vary enormously in their communication skills, from having almost no language, to appearing to be very competent communicators. However, even those children at the top end of the communication spectrum, often fail to get the subtle messages and social nuances that non-autistic children instinctively understand.

Obsessive Thinking

Another difference is that autistic children can be more rigid and obsessive in their thinking. They often insist on things being done a certain way and they can find it harder to let go of issues. Thoughts and feelings that would come and go in the normal child get lodged in the ASD mind, and, like an uncomfortable stone in a shoe, they can be very difficult to ignore, creating increasing pain and distress. Sometimes these thoughts and feelings can be about external factors, including other people, and sometimes they can be about the child himself.

Aggression and Self Harm

In an attempt to release and manage this intense psychological tension, some ASD children will become aggressive, or even violent, while some stressed ASD children resort to hurting themselves physically. These self administered ‘treatments’ can include banging their head, pulling their hair, punching walls, picking their skin, or even cutting their arms and legs.

How to Help an Autistic Child

For all these reasons and more, caring for a child with an ASD can be very challenging. However, there are certain things parents and teachers can do to reduce the chances of overload, depending on the particular difficulties and age of the child.

  • Stay calm and cool, no matter what. [Easier said than done, I know, but stress is contagious and good role modelling is vital.]
  • Remember you are in charge, not the child. Be calm and loving, but strong and assertive.
  • Keep a record of situations leading up to a meltdown to determine the child’s triggers.
  • Ask the child about possible precursors, once they are calm, but don’t press them if they don’t know.
  • Encourage the child to engage in enjoyable physical activities to release tension.
  • Build the child’s self esteem.
  • Use positive labels when talking about the child.
  • Plant the idea that the child is getting better at managing their emotions and responses as they are getting older.
  • Increase attention and rewards for desirable behaviour, or when the child has managed their reactions, even is tiny ways.
  • Decrease attention for unwanted behaviour.
  • Help other children to understand and cope with the child’s behaviours, but, if the ASD child has been violent, focus on the comforting the hurt child.
  • Have clear, manageable consequences for unacceptable behaviour, as close as possible to the event.
  • Avoid taking the child to uncomfortable places, such as big noisy shopping centres.
  • Let the child know in advance of planned activities.
  • Break instructions down into small steps.
  • Create laminated task sheets with pictures for routine activities, such as getting ready for school.
  • Provide colour coded time-sheets and maps at school.
  • Provide one to one help in the classroom to help the child understand lessons and relax.
  • Calm, comfort and distract the distressed child.
  • Experiment with ways to help the child feel contained, such as hugging, wrapping tightly, or weighting down with a heavy pillow or weighted clothing.
  • Encourage the child to earth or ground themselves, such as by taking their shoes off on grass, touching trees or plants, gardening without gloves, or immersing part of their body in water.
  • Get some support for yourself and the child as required.

Look After Yourself

The bottom line is that the parent or teacher of the autistic child has to do all the things that the parent or teacher of the non-autistic child has to do, only more so. They have to be more than good parents and teachers; they must be super parents and teachers.  Most need a great deal of support, education, and understanding, as well as outlets for emotional release, such as talking and exercise, in order to cope with challenges they face; much like their ASD child does.

On Off Relationships

On-again-off-again, push-pull, hot-cold, Yo-yo relationships can be incredibly painful and confusing. I think most people have either experienced this kind of relationship directly, or else know someone who has, so we all know how soul destroying they can be. But why can they be so difficult to let go of?

From the Beginning

The hot-cold pattern can sometimes start at the very beginning of a relationship. You meet him or her, feel a mutual instant attraction, and seem to really click in the personality department. You text or email each other; you talk on the phone; and you might have another date or two. You may even sleep together at some stage. But then somewhere along this timeline things suddenly go very cold. Your new lover stops answering your texts or phone calls, or when they do, it’s in a cool detached way. Dates get called off with thin excuses.  All the warmth, and unspoken promises of things to come, suddenly disappear. You send a ‘What’s going on?’ message and get nothing back.

This can lead to huge hurt and confusion. Unanswered questions tend to create worst case responses in your mind. She doesn’t like me any more. I was just a sexual conquest. He has girlfriend. There is something really wrong with me.

You just start to face the realisation that the whole thing was a farce, when suddenly, out of the blue, your lover contacts you, says ‘I am so sorry’, with great conviction, and explains that she has been going through a bad patch and got caught up in some life drama that she didn’t want you to have to deal with. Or perhaps he says that he was overcome with strong feelings for you, so got scared, but now he’s realised he really does want to be with you. She is warm and passionate and adoring once again, so, of course, you take her back. Who wouldn’t? And once the bruising starts to heal, you relax and the relationship begins to flow freely again.

That is until a week or two later, when history repeats itself and once again the trail suddenly goes cold.  Back into the depths of confusion and despair you go, until he contacts you again….

Why We Get Hooked

One of the reasons hot-cold relationships are so difficult to let go of is because they provide what’s called ‘intermittent reinforcement’. This is a term coined by a research psychologist named Alfred Skinner who studied the behaviour of animals in a ‘Skinner Box’. This was a simple box with a lever, water, and a small shoot. If the animal accidentally hit the lever, a food pellet would fly down the shoot, into the box. The animal quickly learned to press the lever to get the reward of food.

If the pellets suddenly stopped coming, the animal learned that the lever was no longer useful and stopped pressing it. The prior association and learning were extinguished, usually pretty quickly.

However, if the food stopped coming for a few presses of the lever, then started up again, and if this cycle happened a repeatedly, with the food pellets stopping and starting up again intermittently, the animal would find it very difficult to stop hitting that lever, even long after the pellets stopped coming. Skinner realised that this ‘intermittent reinforcement’ created behaviour that was very difficult to extinguish. This is partly the reason that people on the end of yo-yo strings find it so difficult to let go of their dysfunctional hot and cold relationships. They repeatedly forgive in order to get that juicy love reward; then keep hoping and trying to reconnect, even long after the romance is dead.

When the Roots Go Deeper

Sometimes this on-off pattern can emerge later in a relationship, when it’s even harder to let go. Maybe at the beginning of the relationship she was consistently adoring, and the future looked rosy; but after a few months, or even years, he starts to withdraw, or becomes hypercritical. Your sensitive, opened heart begins to crumple, and you withdraw or attack, or simply cry and cling, in reaction to your pain and confusion. The next thing you know you are alone, with the sound of a slammed door ringing in your ears. Your rosy world has become dark and unbearable.

Then suddenly your beloved is back: apologetic, regretful, and desperately wanting to be with you again. Of course you say yes. Of course you let her return. Of course you believe his excuses. Because you want to, and because all relationships have their ups and downs, don’t they? That was the little wobble that had to happen, but now it’s passed and you can move together into an even deeper, warmer, more secure place. And for a while you do.

Then zap, it happens again, this time with even more vengeance and finality, and you are left feeling completely distraught, distressed and heart-broken…. until he returns and the whole cycle of starts again, with the intermittent reinforcement keeping you firmly hooked.

Listen to Alarm Bells

Humans are not as simple animals as rats and pigeons, so sometimes our intelligent minds can override our primitive brains, and, when appropriate, ring loud ‘get out’ alarm bells in our heads . If you are smart enough, strong enough, have adequate self worth, and are not in too deep, you might listen to those bells, end the relationship, delete her number, and escape gasping to lick your wounds, and get on with life.

Generally though, the longer the relationship, the deeper the heart roots, so the harder it is to let go. Once you have fallen deeply in love, you will be more desperate to hold on, rationalising and justifying, to stifle the alarm bells and force your head to believe that the painful stuff won’t keep happening. And, to be fair, sometimes it doesn’t, so it really is often worth hanging in there, moving through the crisis and forgiving and forgetting.  Of course, when there are children, or even property or pets involved, it is more important to try to fix it, so that too can be a good thing.

But if it this on-off  pattern has happened repeatedly, and you realise that the Skinner effect might be taking hold, making you obsessively cling to the source of your pleasure and pain, then your sensible alarm bells really need to be turned up a notch and heeded.

Take Action

That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you leave the relationship, but you need to become very conscious of the dynamic of the relationship, and the part you play in it. You might choose to address the overall problem with your partner directly; but if the problem is deeply entrenched, or it is difficult to regain trust, I suggest that you call on the help of a competent therapist to help you work through it together; or failing that, to help you to explore your issues independently.

Warm wishes

Lorri

 

 

Image courtesy of photostock and freedigitalphotos.net