7 reasons not to automatically cut out the negative people

On quite a regular basis I come across advice to cut out the negative people in my life, whether in an illustrated quote on social media, in a book or article, or on a podcast. The gist of the advice is that negative people will drag you down and ruin your attempts at living a ‘positive life’. There is some truth and logic in all this: depression can be a bit catching and presumably there are people out there who enjoy putting others down or making fun of them, and people who anger easily and say mean things. It’s undeniably important to look out for our wellbeing and reflect on how spending time with our current friends and family makes us feel. And I would never suggest anyone stay with an abusive partner/family member, who is violent, controlling, constantly critical, not understanding or manipulative. There probably are some people who you might need to cut out. But today I’m going to talk about why this advice doesn’t seem like great blanket advice, my experiences of it, and what I think a better approach could be.

1. Friendship is really important for people with mental health issues

Friendship can be hugely important for mental health, and depressed or anxious people needs friends too.

Here’s what some sites have to say:

There is a tendency to say that depressed people don’t need friends, they need a therapist. But, in reality, therapists can’t do everything and there can be long waits to see one and between sessions. And therapists tend to encourage depressed people to do more things socially. But that’s going to be difficult if their friends have cut them off because they are not positive enough!

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Friendship is super important for people with mental health issues. Photo by Roberto Nicksong on Unsplash. 

2. Losing friends is extra painful when you’re depressed or have anxiety

I can definitely testify to this. And depressed people often have an exaggerated view of their bad qualities, with many thinking they are worthless, so losing friends is only going to enhance this. Also, depressed people often avoid socialising even though it is known to help, and if they keep losing friends, that’s going to make them more likely to avoid seeking new ones for fear of yet more rejection and disappointment. Similarly, for those with social anxiety, rejection will feel very significant and will increase the barriers to making social connections.

3. One day it will probably be you who is the negative person

Depressed people can be a bit mopey to be around, they may not have a lot of optimism or jokes, they may be quiet or talk about themselves and their problems a lot. So, yeah, they might not be the people most likely to boost your positivity, but your friendship could mean a great deal to them at this difficult time. Many people experience depression at some point in their lives – one in five according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists – and it’s quite likely that one day you’ll be having a hard time and you’ll want your friends to be there for you even if you’re not all smiles.

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Most of us will be depressed at some point, or have a period of anxiety, and hope that our friends stick by us. Stunning photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash. 

4. A small sacrifice on your part could mean a great deal to someone having a hard time

I’ve very rarely turned away someone who wanted to be my friend. This has often been surprising to other people, who wanted nothing to do with the person who was a bit abrupt or talked too much. But I’ve always felt that meeting someone for lunch or a coffee was a small thing to me, and perhaps important to this person who had no other friends. Everyone needs friends.

5. You can feel good about being there for the person

If you really want to see everything in terms of the benefit it brings to you, well, you can feel good about doing something for another person. There is a deeper value in looking out for and caring for other people than in trying to make everything in your life ‘positive’, which, in fact, is an impossible and potentially quite a frustrating aim.

Also, showing a bit of kindness to a person having a tough time could help that person get better, saving the NHS some money, maybe also the benefits system, and reducing the likelihood of very sad, disruptive events such as suicides and drug addiction. Individuality actually often backfires because, ultimately, we all live and work in proximity with others.

6. You might regret cutting people out

I’ve cut out a couple of people. It’s easy to do it hastily in an argument or after they’ve said something you find really offensive, and quite hard to backtrack on. I’d suggest waiting a couple of days before cutting anyone out. You often don’t really miss something until it’s gone, and that can be true of friends. And waiting a couple of days gives you both time to cool off.

I’ve also found that friends with depression or anxiety are often the most loyal and appreciative. The most entertaining, fun friends are often those who won’t stay in touch if you move and may be more prone to dropping you if they get in a relationship or find more convenient or more fun friends elsewhere. And, hopefully, those friends with depression and anxiety won’t always be so anxious or depressed, and will remember how you stuck by them and be there for you when you need it.

7. Learn to develop boundaries and care for yourself

If spending time with someone is leaving you feeling drained, worried or low, this could be a great opportunity to work on your assertiveness and self-care. Figure out how long you can spend with that person without it having much of an adverse effect on you, and then implement it, if you can. If necessary, tell them you need a bit more time apart and feel free to only take calls or look at their messages when convenient to you, if that’s an issue.

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Developing boundaries and assertiveness often removes the feeling of needing to cut someone out completely, and is a great skill. Photo by Paige Muller on Unsplash. 

In the UK, we’re not great at assertiveness and we’re quite prone to avoiding situations that might feel a bit awkward. I’ve come to think that’s not a good thing and I’ve been working on not being so avoidant. Once you learn how to look after your needs and ask others to respect them, you won’t need to ghost people, block people or completely cut people out of your life (except in extreme cases perhaps). And those are great skills to have in the workplace and as a parent, when you simply can’t avoid everyone who causes you irritation or upset.

If someone often gets angry with you, or says things you find offensive, or says a lot of pessimistic things that make you feel demoralised – try bringing it up and explaining how it’s affecting you. I’ve done this and found it has worked. If someone values your friendship, they will make the effort. If they don’t then, fair enough, cut them out. Likewise, if you know for sure that talking to them about the issue won’t help, or if even minimal contact is going to be too upsetting to you, then that is probably a sign you should cut them out. I’ve actually never met anyone like that, or anyone really manipulative who tries to make me feel bad but I assume they are out there and sure, avoid them.

In summary, here are a few reasons not to automatically cut out the negative people:

  • A small sacrifice on your part could mean a great deal to someone having a hard time
  • Friendship is really important for people with mental health issues
  • One day it will probably be you
  • Losing friends is extra painful when you’re depressed or have anxiety
  • You might regret it later: consider all the good times you’ve had with this person and their good qualities
  • Rationing time with such people can be better than cutting them out completely
  • You can feel good about being there for the person
  • Use it as an opportunity to learn how to develop appropriate boundaries and assertiveness

What are your thoughts? Share below!

Related links

https://byrslf.co/why-im-not-cutting-negative-people-out-of-my-life-in-2018-db043a38b412

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-other-side-of-cutting-out-the-negative-people A description of how it can feel to be cut out

https://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-negative-people-or-difficult-people/

 

 

Now could be the time to let go of gender assumptions

When was the last time you said “well, that’s men for you!” or “oh, you know, women!!!”? Or something like “well, it’s a girl/guy thing…” I’m guessing probably not that long ago. Me too! It’s actually really difficult to avoid, even if you want to. Why? Well, it’s great for bonding with fellow men or women. It’s also an easy way to explain a difference between you and your partner without getting personal (“oh, you know, it’s a guy thing I think.”). It’s also habit, and often used humorously (“honestly, men and their toys!” etc.).  Common gender assumptions include: men are stronger than women; women are more empathetic than men; men are better at maths and women are more interested in relationships than casual sex. Now, I’m not saying that none of these hold some truth, even a great deal of truth in the first case. But what I’ve been wondering more and more in recent years is:

Are gender assumptions serving us well?

I think my trigger for considering this was a guy I dated who constantly challenged any gender assumptions I made: both literally in conversation and simply by being who he was. Gradually, I began to realise how unhelpful some of my gender assumptions had been. The main negatives are:

Harm to the men and women who don’t fit the assumption

This is a major one I think. It’s hard to find a gender assumption that will be true in 100% of cases (I challenge you! Comment below if you think you have one!). And for those who don’t fit the assumption, it can be tough: for the women who are great at IT but have to battle to be taken seriously, for the men with lower sex drives than their wives, for the women with no urge to have kids and for the men who love knitting. Being seen as the odd-one-out can be crushing, leaving people feeling ashamed of who they are and unable to talk freely with others about how they truly feel for fear of seeming abnormal. This has been discussed in a sexual context in the guest post on libido, where the common (but wrong) assumption remains that men are all highly sexualised and certainly more so than their girlfriends or wives [1]. A similarly crushing (and very common) assumption is that women all get broody and men generally don’t.

And, as the current climate also demonstrates, life is particularly tough for women trying to prove themselves in male-dominated fields such as science, the film industry, politics and business leadership. At every step they come up against assumptions that they are less worthy than men to be there and thus have to fight twice as hard. And yet there is no evidence that these particular women are not every bit as good as the men they are competing with (and trying to be paid as much as) – indeed, they may even be better.

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It can be tough for women in male-dominated fields (such as engineering) when they constantly feel they have to prove themselves, due to the assumption that men are better at it.

Even if you believe that more men than women are better at maths, for example, that doesn’t mean that the female accountant doing your tax return is any less skilled than her male colleagues. And even if you believe that more women than men are interested in having children, that doesn’t mean that the woman you’re dating is necessarily going to be keen on the idea (nearly all of my boyfriends have assumed this and not thought to ask!). So, just how are those assumptions serving us when we can never know which men and women will actually fit with the assumption?

I guess at times gender assumptions can be helpful though. They might help English teachers pick a range of books that are likely to interest pupils of both genders more equally than if they’d given the matter no thought, for example. But for most of us, in everyday life, I don’t see that they’re very useful. 

Disagree? Comment below!

Perpetuating trends

Every time we make a comment in the form of a gender assumption, we contribute to its continuation. If you’re a man and you hear all the time that men enjoy porn, you’re likely to watch it and think you should enjoy it. If you’re a woman and you hear all the time that women are bad at parking, you may put down your errors to your gender instead of the potentially real cause of inexperience, lack of confidence or a stressful day. You may just let your husband park for you, whereas were the situation reversed, you can bet your bottom dollar your husband would be practising parking until he had it mastered! (Note to self: practice parallel parking!).

Self-confidence plays a large part in mastering most skills, and studies show that girls who were given (false) information about girls being less good at maths than boys actually performed less well in a maths test than the girls who hadn’t been shown that information! [2]

Pressure to conform stifles individuality and limits options

What most people want in life is to be accepted for who they truly are. What if we welcomed into our world, without even raising our eyebrows, the deeply empathetic men, the highly ambitious women, the men who love to sew, the women who love to code, the broody men, the sex-mad women, the boys who dress as princesses, the girls who love to play-fight, the men who aren’t strong, the women who are, the female welders, the male secretaries, the women with an interest in war memorabilia and the men who love romcoms… Just imagine how liberating life would be for all these people (and I guarantee they are out there!) if they didn’t have to worry about being judged or laughed at but instead if people just saw them and thought “well, everyone is different”. Because that, after all, is one undeniable fact.

girl in skate park
Imagine if we could all do and be what we wanted without gender assumptions getting in the way!

 

Without these assumptions, none of us would risk feeling like a cliché or a failed “gender rebel” either. It would be fine, as a woman, indeed a liberated, 21st-century woman, to be a stay-at-home mum, spending your free time making scented candles and having nights in with friends watching Dirty Dancing and drinking Prosecco, if you so wished.

Lately I’ve been trying to say what I like and don’t like, what I’m good at and not good at and what I want and don’t want from life, and not throw myself in with the vast group that is “women”. I’ve seen this trend growing in some of the podcasts I listen to as well, such as the Guilty Feminist podcast. To be honest, it feels much more truthful. Time and experience have revealed to me that women don’t all like the same books, films, clothes, partners and sexual practices. They aren’t all good at reading people or subtlety or being caring. They don’t all want children or rich husbands or non-stressful jobs. And men are equally diverse, even if they don’t necessarily reveal it to their male acquaintances. They don’t all like porn, action movies, fancy cars, no-fuss clothing and technology. They aren’t all good at parking, fixing things or being direct. And they don’t all want big houses, beautiful wives, lots of sex and a fridge full of beer (really!).

And if you go through life basing your decisions on these assumptions, you may well end up with pretty unhappy partners/children/employees/friends. Maybe now is the time to let go of our assumptions and just let people be who they are!

And you know what, we could all have more fun too. I’d like to know more about cars and football. Maybe if I did, I’d have new passions! Men also often tend to rule out a whole range of books and films that they might actually love. You could be missing out on discovering your ideal job because it’s not one you would feel respected, as a man/woman, doing. Why are we limiting ourselves in these ways?

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Not ALL men want big houses, beautiful wives, lots of sex and a fridge full of beer! 

I’m really happy that I grew up in a household where it was ok to like toy cars as well as dolls, to play at being a firefighter as well as a mum and to choose to study whatever I wanted. I’ve felt gloriously free to bend gender norms by playing rugby and darts, wearing men’s clothes and aftershave (occasionally) and owning a toolbox, which I use from time to time (thanks mum!). I want everyone to feel this liberated!

I still don’t quite feel free of gender expectations when it comes to sex and relationships, and talking about them with other people, but I’m getting there. And I’m still catching myself bolstering gender assumptions I don’t even believe in for the sake of group bonding, not disagreeing with someone or making things seem less personal but my challenge for 2018 is to do this much less. Anyone care to join me?

Share your thoughts below!

References

[1] e.g. see http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/sex-confessions-women-want-sex-more-than-men_n_3203879

and

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/women-want-sex-more-than-men-partners_n_3179516

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-maths-girls/girls-do-badly-at-math-when-told-boys-better-study-idUSN2242207920070524

See also Related Links

Related Links

https://jezebel.com/5785910/the-damaging-expectation-of-higher-male-desire

The Guilty Feminist Podcast: Assumptions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThjQ-sG3dlE

 

Be wary of being too nice

And no, I’m not going to argue that if you’re too nice, you’ll become a doormat. We’ve all heard that before, so it’s not unconventional wisdom. Going beyond the doormat argument, I’ve found several reasons why making a distinct effort to be a nicer person towards someone can have negative side effects:

Increased inequality

I decided a while back to be nicer to a housemate. She could be quite sensitive about comments to do with her house, so I decided to stop making any. Easier said than done, of course, as I was living with her and really could have done with a few adaptations here and there. But I made a huge effort and resisted mentioning all sorts of things. She, however, mentioned something about me and the house on an almost daily basis, from food in the plughole to forgetting to turn things off. If I hadn’t made my pledge, all would’ve been pretty equal but, as it was, I got sicker and sicker of receiving comments while having to hold all mine in. I’d end up blurting them out during a disagreement, which was hardly the best time. In future I’ll be entering into these kinds of resolutions with a heavy dose of caution!

Resentment

This goes hand in hand with increased inequality. It can easily arise when you’re making a big effort for someone but that person appears to be making zero effort towards you. Sometimes it can even be quite illogical. You can think: here I am, trying to think the best of this person, and yet they’re still mean to me. Well, maybe that person has no idea you’re trying to think the best of them. Resentment is such a difficult emotion to soothe away, I find. It’s hard to give freely and expect nothing (or worse than nothing) in return.

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Being too nice can encourage feelings of resentment if you’re efforts aren’t reciprocated.

Unpleasant surprises

There’s a practice in Buddhist-inspired mindfulness where you wish people well, starting with yourself, then a near-stranger, then someone ‘difficult’, then a larger group of people. An unexpected side-effect of this practice for me was forgetting about people’s darker sides. Let’s say my difficult person one day was a chap called Damien. I spend time thinking about what could have led to Damien’s unpleasant behaviour. I remind myself he’s a human being with hopes and fears like the rest of us. I wish him well. Then, later in the day, or even the next day, I meet Damien and he’s a complete arse towards me. I found myself feeling more shocked and more wounded by Damien’s behaviour as if, subconsciously, I’d expected him to be more likeable, more kind, simply as a result of my meditation.

I still do this meditation but with more awareness of what might happen.

Delusion

This links in with ‘unpleasant surprise’. It’s more of a deeper loss of awareness of people’s motives. It can be beneficial to think the best of people and not assume their motives are bad. They might not have called you for ages because of a rough patch at work. They might have been rude because they had a bad day. But if you take this too far, you risk slipping into delusion. I’ve observed it, and I’ve been there myself. For about a week I convinced myself that someone wasn’t being rude to me because of anything I’d done. Only when he stopped talking to me altogether did I get the message, when it was really too late. Kindness = good; naivete not so much.

man-looking-concerned
Sometimes people’s motives are bad and we need to be able to trust our gut and not give them the benefit of the doubt!

But don’t turn into ****head!

I’m not suggesting anyone stop trying to be nice to people. Even ‘difficult’ people. I just wanted to share some of the surprising after-effects of my attempts to be a nicer person. I’m not sure what the answers are here, but I feel like being aware of the issues is always a good first step! I guess my takeaway is to still try to be a nice person but:

  • still listen to my gut if someone is acting in a mean way, rather than assuming I’m reading too much into things or being too sensitive
  • not take this too far by doing too much for someone who’s not reciprocating or appreciating it
  • reminding myself that even if I’m thinking kindly of someone, they might not have a similar focus and may have no idea I’m doing it either!

Have you got any advice on avoiding these pitfalls, while still trying to be a better person? Or just got some tales of your own on the topic? If so, please share below! And if you want to be kept in the loop in case I find the perfect solution, or just to hear more of my ponderings in future, please subscribe.

edward-lear-mother-beating-children
Trying not to be too nice could be taken too far though… Image by Edward Lear.

 

 

Related links:

 

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/97182472/posts/502 8 Signs you are way too nice

 

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/113568713/posts/981 Being too nice and bullying

 

Business context: https://hbr.org/2014/04/the-problem-with-being-too-nice

 

Believing in the law of attraction isn’t helpful

This post is a kind of short follow-on from my first post on the law of attraction, which examines what it is and whether or not it is plausible. You can find that post here. This post addresses the argument that goes along the lines of “well, even if it’s not that scientifically plausible, isn’t it a good thing to believe in?”

Visualisation

Apparently “Creative visualization is a cornerstone of using the Law of Attraction” [1]. Psychologists seem to vary on whether visualisation boards are a good thing or not [2]. They are commonly suggested by self-help books and even at school or college courses though the Law of Attraction site goes further by suggesting spending 10-15 minutes on this every day. While it can be a good thing to visualise where you want to get to, most psychologists seem to suggest that you do need to then plan concrete steps to get you to your goal such as enrolling on courses, joining a dating site, money management etc. [3].

Affirmations: not always a good thing

Affirmations (another major part of the Law of attraction) can also be a double-edged sword, as research has shown that uttering affirmations that we don’t truly believe can actually reduce our self-esteem [4]. As an aside, I will add that personally I’m a fan of affirmations but it does make sense to stick to things that either are true or that we can easily believe are true.

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Using positive affirmations can actually worsen self-esteem, as can the belief that everything is within our control (when things don’t go as we wanted). Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

Being in full control of life: a good thing?

The Law of attraction suggests that “your entire future is yours to create” [5] . Well, how lovely. But being told life is entirely in our control can be crushing if things go wrong and we feel that it is all our fault; and even minor failings to achieve our ‘dream life’ are likely to weigh on us if we feel everything is in our control, as Alain de Botton points out here [6].

And how realistic is it that everything is in our control? What about earthquakes and wars, trains going off the rails and terrorist attacks?

The law of attraction tells us “Be happy, for the universe is always on our side!” Maintaining law of attraction beliefs in the face of rape, loss of your home etc. is going to require quite some mental gymnastics. And is it going to encourage us to speak up in the face of injustice or to try to reduce famine, war and abuse? Probably not, if we think that these things are happening “for a reason” or because of people thinking negatively.

“Treat The Universe Like Your Personal Supermarket”

This is one of the principles stated on the law of attraction website. Hmm. Even if it were plausible that a somewhat demented Santa figure is in charge of granting our wishes if we order them correctly, how beneficial is such a belief? Isn’t it rather self-centred? And why hasn’t anyone wished for world peace? Numerous psychologists and philosophers have pointed out that actually we are often at our happiest when serving others and when we lose the heavy sense of our personal weighty existence, be it when ‘in flow’ during a hobby, immersed in a vast landscape, star-gazing or volunteering and immersed in helping others [7].

caleb-woods-father-christmas
While it may initially be appealing to imagine a Santa figure in control of the world, much of the law of attraction rhetoric is very self-centred, appealing to those who want to ‘order’ the ‘perfect job/partner/house’ etc. Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash.

What do you think? Comment below.

References

[1] http://www.thelawofattraction.com

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201107/how-positive-thinking-and-vision-boards-set-you-fail

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-psychology-dress/201111/visualize-it

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-blame-game/201205/throw-away-your-vision-board-0

[3] e.g. Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002. and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201107/how-positive-thinking-and-vision-boards-set-you-fail

[4] https://lifehacker.com/positive-self-affirmation-may-backfire-on-people-with-l-1593723648

[5] http://www.thelawofattraction.com/what-is-the-law-of-attraction

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtSE4rglxbY

[7] http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/getting-in-the-flow/; http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/caring/; http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160420-how-nature-is-good-for-our-health-and-happiness; http://dilja.co.uk/the-benefits-of-feeling-small/ http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/strengths-and-virtues

 

 

The Tampa Scale needs amendment

There is a questionnaire used to supposedly identify ‘fear of movement’ called the Tampa Scale. While I would certainly agree that it is worth identifying which patients have wrong beliefs about their condition and the effects of exercise, I also have serious concerns over some of the elements of this questionnaire. It just doesn’t seem like a rational questionnaire, and yet is very widely used and, it seems, rarely questioned.

I’m going to start with my suggested alternative, then go over the items on the original Tampa scale that I think are not going to help identify mistaken beliefs that could be causing a patient to avoid exercise and activity.

Suggested alternative to the Tampa Scale (for identifying mistaken beliefs − obviously some are true and some untrue as in the original):

 

1. I need to move as little as possible to avoid injury 1 2 3 4
2. Just because something aggravates my pain that usually does not mean it is dangerous 1 2 3 4
3. Sometimes it is a good idea to exercise even though it’s painful 1 2 3 4
4. When people with pain gradually increase their level of activity, they often don’t experience increased pain 1 2 3 4
5. Although my condition is painful, I would probably be healthier if I were more physically active 1 2 3 4
6. Even though something is causing me a bit of pain, I don’t think it’s actually dangerous 1 2 3 4
7. Some people with chronic pain find that exercise reduces their pain levels 1 2 3 4
8. If I exercise less, I’ll get weaker and am then likely to experience more pain 1 2 3 4
9. Worries about injury put me off exercising 1 2 3 4
10. Pain always means I have injured my body 1 2 3 4
11. Pain always means I have injured my body 1 2 3 4
12. Simply being careful that I do not make any unnecessary movements is the safest thing I can do to prevent my pain from worsening 1 2 3 4

Now for my analysis of the original

The ones that make sense (ish):

3. My body is telling me I have something dangerously wrong. (I suppose ‘dangerously’ suggests an element of dramatization if the problem is not life-threatening etc… though surely more a sign of ‘catastrophising’ than movement avoidance?)

Similar to: 11. I wouldn’t have this much pain if there weren’t something potentially dangerous going on in my body.

 

7. Pain always means I have injured my body.

(Probably the most useful one in my view, as this is definitely false and a harmful view.)

 

8. Just because something aggravates my pain does not mean it is dangerous. (Very similar to number 7. Patients need to be informed this is true, if they are not aware it is. Though I would suggest amending it to ‘Just because something aggravates my pain usually does not mean it is dangerous’ because sometimes pain is a sign of danger, obviously! Pain can warn us we are about to tear or break something.)

 

10. Simply being careful that I do not make any unnecessary movements is the safest thing I can do to prevent my pain from worsening. (Does sound a bit extreme, and shows lack of awareness that inactivity may increase pain long-term.)

Related to: 17. No one should have to exercise when he/she is in pain. (Quite moralistic but I suppose passible. ‘Sometimes it is a good idea to exercise even though it’s painful’ would be better.)

 

14. It’s really not safe for a person with a condition like mine to be physically active. (Probably a wrong belief in most cases where the questionnaire would be used, so fair enough.)

The ones that are problematic either in general or for some conditions (such as Ehlers Danlos):

2. If I were to try to overcome it, my pain would increase. (Sounds like an unhealthy battle that might well happen that way! Pacing and acceptance of pain are surely more accepted approaches? How about ‘Gradually increasing my level of activity often doesn’t lead to increased pain’?)

 

5. People aren’t taking my medical condition seriously enough. (No comment needed surely?! Whoever thought that was a sensible one?)

 

4. My pain would probably be relieved if I were to exercise. (For many people this won’t be true, so strongly disagreeing is the rational option.)

The same goes for: 12. Although my condition is painful, I would be better off if I were physically active. (What does ‘better off’ mean? Why not say ‘healthier’? That would be true in more cases. Being physically active – another subjective term  – might make some people less happy due to the increased pain and fatigue and so ‘better off’ might not feel appropriate to them.)

 

6. My accident has put my body at risk for the rest of my life. (Ambiguous. Surely accidents do create a greater risk of re-injury in many cases? Or does it mean at risk of death, which probably would be a wrong belief?)

See also: 1. I’m afraid that I might injure myself if I exercise. (In some cases this might be highly unlikely, in other cases quite likely e.g. if you have EDS and are prone to dislocations and sprains, even during very mild exercise).

The same applies to: 9. I am afraid that I might injure myself accidentally.

A related one is: 13. Pain lets me know when to stop exercising so that I don’t injure myself. (Again, is this really unreasonable in all cases? Since when was completely ignoring pain a good idea?)

And: 15. I can’t do all the things normal people do because it’s too easy for me to get injured. (People with EDS are generally advised to avoid contact sports, for example, so again this is not going to be unreasonable in all cases.)

Also: 16. Even though something is causing me a lot of pain, I don’t think it’s actually dangerous. (Are we really advocating that people do things that cause a lot of pain? I’ve generally not been advised to do that, and indeed if something does cause a lot of pain that could be a sign you are about to or have injured yourself.)

 

Are you a medical practitioner or patient? I’d love to hear your views!

Do also check out my post on re-examining the concept of kinesiophobia in chronic pain patients.

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Do you think my scale is a better one for identifying when patients are being inactive due to wrong beliefs? Comment below! Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

 

Re-examining ‘fear of movement’ (kinesiophobia) in those with chronic pain

 

(This post is especially relevant to doctors and physiotherapists and others who work with those in chronic pain)

What many physiotherapists and doctors don’t understand about chronic pain

In medical jargon there is the expression kinesiophobia, ‘fear of movement’. I’ve always found this an odd concept. It is said that many chronic pain patients experience a fear of movement because of associating movement with pain. So, the assumption is that they fear pain. Those with chronic pain are, by definition, those who live with the most pain. It doesn’t seem natural to me to talk of fearing something that is already a major part of your life. If you wear a suit to work every day – you may dislike it, sure, but you wouldn’t fear it, would you? You might wear it only when obliged to do so, and wear super-casual clothes the rest of the time i.e. you may well limit your exposure to it, but fearing it would be unusual.

Chronic pain is something only those who experience it can truly understand. It isn’t accurate to think ‘well, I know what pain is, so chronic pain is just having that a lot of the time’ (which those without chronic pain tend to think either sounds awful or not too bad at all). Prior to getting chronic pain I regularly played full-contact rugby. I loved it. I loved tackling people. I didn’t mind the bloody lip, the bruises and feeling a bit battered. Doing this once a week was, however, NOT a taste of chronic pain in any way. Nor was ju-jitsu, or taekwondo, or boxing. Nor was period pain, or toothache, or a headache. The relentlessness (and total pointlessness of the pain) is not possible to imagine until it happens to you.

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Just because you’ve experienced pain, it doesn’t mean you know what chronic pain is like. (Photograph by Quino Al on Unsplash)

Imagine you enjoy sitting out in the garden when it’s sunny. One day it’s raining and someone asks you why you’re not sitting in the garden. Er, duh. It’s not much fun in the rain. Do you fear rain? No, it’s just not enjoyable sitting out when it’s raining. So why do some medical professionals really have a problem understanding that people’s preferences change when they live with chronic pain? If anyone wants me to live like I did prior to chronic pain, I want them to sit out in the rain, and enjoy it.

Movement avoidance isn’t necessarily due to fear of harm either

Now imagine you’re someone who enjoys going on walks and also reading. Imagine that you have the option to either read for a while or go for a walk while someone repeatedly stabs you in the neck with a fork, and you can’t stop them. I think I can guess what you’d choose. And what if someone tells you that, although the fork stabbing might be unpleasant, it’s not harmful. You’re still choosing reading, right?

Now what do you think about patients who avoid some pain-inducing activities, choosing to do something else instead?

Only when someone tells you that if you don’t choose the walk you’ll get unfit and get stabbed with a fork during even more activities would you reconsider.

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People need to be given a clear and meaningful reason to do a painful activity, otherwise it just won’t appeal. It sounds simple, but seems to get forgotten.

 

A common belief is that patients avoid movement because they believe pain signifies damage to the body. Well, I’m sure some people do, and it’s certainly right to point out that pain can be completely meaningless and unhelpful, as is often the case with chronic pain.

But that’s not necessarily going to make someone start being as active as they used to be, because some activities are just not appealing any more, or not as appealing as pain-free options. I get headaches watching films, so don’t do it as often as I used to, but have gained a great love for podcasts and audiobooks. I’m not scared of the pain watching a film brings on… I’d just rather do something else.

Of course, what really is an issue and what patients do need to know is that if they avoid all physical activity, they’ll lose muscle tone and may experience more pain in the long run. Knowing this will potentially reduce ‘movement avoidance’ in patients who are motivated by long-term goals; perhaps not so much others.

Also, I’ve come across a few things recently suggesting the role of physiotherapists when dealing with chronic pain patients is to get them moving more. Hmm. Well, if that’s what the patient wants, fine. I’m not totally sure, however, that everyone goes to a physiotherapist wanting to be persuaded to sit out in the rain more, or spend more time getting stabbed with a fork, to continue the metaphors.

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I’m doubtful as to whether patients attend physiotherapy in order to be persuaded to do more physical activity despite the pain. (Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash)

More exercise doesn’t always mean less pain long term

As far as I’m aware, it has not been proven that people with all types of chronic pain will be able to get back to their previous level of activity if they do it gradually. I’ve really tried, both with sudden increases in activity and the opposite, gradually increasing walking time by just one minute per month. In neither case did my pain levels decrease and in neither case was I able to keep up the increase, as the increased pain interfered too much with my sleep. I recognise that many people may find that doing more activity builds muscle and enables them to do more with less pain: but it can’t be the case for absolutely everyone.

For me and for many others, limiting movement is about keeping pain levels bearable and being able to work, sleep and enjoy life as much as possible. It’s not always about fear or a poor understanding of pain, or even poor motivation levels. It is a way of coping and it is a pain management system. It might be the best option for some of us, and though exercise-loving physios may struggle to understand, life’s not all about physical activity. Since developing chronic pain, I’ve really enjoyed doing more art, writing, reading and listening to the radio. I do what exercise I can each day, ideally a short walk in my area looking at the nice gardens and the wonderful lake, and sometimes chores and a few all-body exercises. Chronic pain sometimes requires adaptation and change, and perhaps medical professionals should take the time to delve a little deeper into why a patient is avoiding some things, what could help them to do it again, and whether they have found any alternatives.

Related links:

 https://stickmancommunications.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/hypermobility-reluctance-to-exercise.html

 

Don’t focus on my impairment, ask me what I can bring to the role — Scope’s Blog

After graduating from university, Lauren embarked on a long and difficult journey to find a job. In support of our new campaign, Work With Me, she spoke to us about the barriers she faced and gives some advice to disabled people who are still searching for a job. When I graduated with a good degree and […]

via Don’t focus on my impairment, ask me what I can bring to the role — Scope’s Blog