This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Parental Guilt and Mental Illness

At one point, during the early days of my bouts with severe adolescent depression, I accused my parents of being responsible for my mental illness. Looking back I hate to think what it must have been like for them. My father was a psychologist and my mother a nurse. They were completely supportive of me even when I made this accusation. And I know they were terribly frustrated that they couldn't do more to help me than they did.

I've always been a big admirer of the psychiatrist R. D. Laing, who, like his predecessors in the psychoanalytic field, viewed mental illness as something which is socially generated. Laing did a lot of work on trying to understand schizophrenia as an adaptation to unhealthy forms of social interaction in families. Critics accused him of blaming parents for the fact that their children became mentally ill. He tried to point out that he didn't feel it was anyone's fault, but that the problem had to be treated holistically and that other family members also needed the therapist's help. More recently the theory that mental illness is socially generated has fallen into disfavour. The concept of mental illness arising through genetically determined chemical imbalances has become the predominant one. I believe that one reason for this is that it is comforting to parents. There is no doubt that mood changes and anxiety states are expressed through changes in the brain chemistry, but I see no reason to think that those mood changes or feelings of anxiety are not responses to social experiences and unhealthy learned ideas.

But perhaps we can untie this knot that was at the heart of Laing's rejection.

The negative feedback loop is central to the problem of mental illness. A simple example of this would be the situation of a young woman who feels she is unattractive and seeks comfort from her depressed feelings by over-eating. The more she eats, the fatter she gets, and the fatter she gets the more unattractive she feels, and the more unattractive she feels, the more depressed she gets, and the more depressed she gets the more she feels the need for the comfort of food. This kind of pattern can be found in depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and, I believe, schizophrenia.

Now lets go back to me as a depressed teenager. I remember what it felt like, but when it comes to understanding the thinking which underlay it I have to speculate. This can seem false to me. I put myself back into the situation and look at it almost as if it were a mathematical equation to be worked out. But I think this is part of the nature of depression. Thinking is the key, but sometimes it is below the level of consciousness. We spend so long thinking about how we are depressed, that the short time in which we had the thoughts which generated the depression are lost to us in retrospect.

There were no doubt many factors involved. But lets just isolate the question of my parents and feelings of guilt, and lets assume that they did feel guilty about the fact that I was depressed. I don't know if this was true in their case. But parents generally have a strong predisposition to feelings of guilt even if they don't have a child with a mental illness. Central to the human neurosis is that we are incredibly hard on ourselves as individuals. We very easily resort to punishing ourselves if we don't meet our high self-expectations and this must be even harder to resist when we are responsible for the raising of children.

What if I felt very unhappy about something and my unhappiness made my parents feel unhappy. Not knowing how to shake my unhappiness, and noticing that it was making my parents unhappy, I would have become even more unhappy. If my parents felt, on some level, that they might have made a mistake which led to my depression, then they would feel guilty. I would notice that they were feeling guilty and feel that it was my fault and thus become more depressed.

Since feeling guilty is a problem for parents anyway, perhaps we should tackle it head on rather than trying to run from it.

The reason that guilt has been a persistent problem for humans is that we have a strong cultural belief that it is appropriate. We feel that we are supposed to feel guilty if we make a mistake or accidentally hurt someone's feelings. We feel we would be heartless or selfish if we didn't have these feelings. But the truth is that guilt is a profoundly selfish emotion. When we feel guilty it becomes all about us. Am I good enough? Our attention is on ourselves not those we feel we have let down. This is natural. Selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering individual. Make ourselves suffer and we will make ourselves more selfish. If we want to not be selfish, then we have to let go of guilt and practise unconditional self-acceptance. We always do the best we can in the circumstances. What keeps us from doing better is that we won't accept this.

If the cause of mental illness is negative feedback loops, then the solution is positive feedback loops. If we accept ourselves unconditionally and allow ourselves plenty of the healing balm of pleasure, then our warm, loving and playful nature will reassure others and help them to heal. Even if some people have problems which can't be fully solved, we will help to take them as far as they can go.

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