Curse Or Addiction?

“But the root of all these evils is the love of money, and there are some who have desired it and have erred from the faith and have brought themselves many miseries.” – First epistle of the Apostle Paul to Timothy

I find that quote from the New Testament intriguing; not because it is a religious text – each to their own on that score – but because it seems to me to be a metaphor for the power that material wealth can have on our emotional wellbeing.

The words the faith, for example, could easily be interpreted as a sense of morality or of right and wrong. And the notion that the desire for, and acquisition of, wealth can bring misery seems to me to have more than a ring of truth about it. 

Quite simply, being rich beyond imagination doesn’t buy you happiness – just ask Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and his wife Dasha Zhukova who this week announced their separation after ten years of marriage. If £7bn can’t buy you contentment then it’s probably safe to say no amount of money can. 

And whilst there are plenty of very wealthy people who seem to live their lives in quiet contentment, apparently putting the Apostle Paul’s sentiment to the sword, history is littered with the stories of society’s super-rich who seem to have been cursed with ill-fortune for generations.

The Kennedys, the Grimaldi royal family, the Gettys and the Rothschilds spring easily to mind as families which appear to have been magnets for tragedy down the decades. Yet surely no family has been as cursed as the Guinness dynasty.

Since Arthur Guinness founded his brewing empire in the mid-18th Century, misadventure after misadventure has befallen his heirs and close family members. From the 1960s the litany of catastrophes became so great that people began to talk of the ‘Guinness curse’.

First, Guinness heir Patrick Browne was killed when he ran a red light in Kensington and smashed into a van. Henrietta Guinness committed suicide in Italy in 1978 and was followed into the grave in short order by Dennys Guinness (suicide), the son of John Guinness (car crash), Caroline Blackwood whose Gothic existence saw her succumb finally to death through alcoholism and two minor heirs who died from drug overdoses.

Though the notion of a curse is of course highly romantic in the literary sense, it’s probably closer to the truth to suspect the tragedies that have befallen the Guinness family and others are the simply result of a toxic mixture of poor mental health. 

It’s no coincidence that drug and alcohol addiction feature prominently in the Guinness story. If money is at the root of all evil, then as the author and addiction specialist John Bradshaw says, shame is at the root of all addictions. And nothing is more likely to bring you bad luck than addiction.

The Guinness tragedies – both fatal and non-fatal context – have little to do with bad luck and far more to do with the shame of the past. Addiction is a symptom of something buried deep within the subconscious. 

One can speculate with some degree of logic on how great wealth can impact negatively on those who have it – and particularly on children. Certainly, it’s no coincidence that the Guinness story is awash with accounts of children who were either denied parental love or were actively neglected. One early account talks of immediate child heirs who were abandoned to such an extent that they were forced to beg neighbours for food scraps.

Abandonment, a common theme to a greater or lesser extent throughout the dynastic tragedies of the modern era, is a great nourisher of shame. As John Bradshaw observes: “Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.”

As I’ve said before, no-one chooses to saddle themselves with an addiction, because addiction needs a trigger – and invariably that trigger comes in the form of shame. Shame at losing a job, shame at failing in a relationship, shame for one’s heritage, shame for behaving badly. Shame is the mother of all bad luck because of the life choices she provokes.

It’s hard not to look at the Guinness family and not come to the conclusion that chronic dysfunction has been a frequent bedfellow. If, as Bradshaw suggests, delusion is sincere denial, then it’s not difficult to see how psychology can short-circuit. 

Money breeds power, power breeds money and the acquisition and retention of both generally requires a ruthlessness that has no space for an upbringing or lifestyle that could be described as being in any way normal and often proves destructive in later life.

There’s more than a grain of truth in the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it doesn’t just corrupt politically and financially, but also emotionally.

And if you’re beginning to think that this doesn’t apply to you or the people you know because you don’t have several million washing around the family piggy bank, it’s useful to bear in mind that wealth and its impact is relative.

If one starts with nothing, the figure at which you might be described as wealthy is very much lower than the figure at which others might judge their riches. Being poor doesn’t mean you’ll never have to deal with shame, far from it – but it does mean your lifestyle, problems and fall from grace can’t be supersized to the same extent.

Money in and of itself isn’t at the root of all evil. Neither is the desire for affluence. There are sufficient numbers of happy, wealthy people to prove that. 

But if the well of your emotional wellbeing has already been fundamentally poisoned by your past, then having great reserves of money can artificially insulate you against your unhappiness and the unhappiness of others. Living fast and loose by making poor lifestyle choices around addiction means you might fly for longer, but reaching rock bottom and finally seeking the help you can take longer. And as some of those infamous families will testify, you might run out of time before that happens.

Lady Henrietta Guinness, prior to leaping to her death from a bridge in Italy in 1978, wrote a suicide note in which she proclaimed: “If I had been poor, I would have been happy.”

Sadly, the truth is that had she been poor, she would very likely still have been unhappy – but she might have recognised her unhappiness for what it was and, in that knowledge, taken a different course of action to deal with it.

At the beginning of this article I said that money can’t buy you happiness. But using it to invest in the right kind of help and deal with whatever trauma or shame is leading you to make dangerous choices can very often, accompanied with some solid self-work, set you on the road to good mental health.


Why It’s Time To Drop The Disorder

Recently, I’ve been rather taken with the word thingy (stop sniggering at the back).  Everyone must agree that it’s a wonderful word; a catch-all for all those things in life whose proper names are either unknown to us or whose pronunciation is clumsy.

Some of my friends use a thingy to change the channel on their TV, though personally I use a doofah and others I know use an oojamaflip

In fact, our lives are joyously full of thingys (or should that be thingies?) It’s the corrugated cardboard sleeve on your takeaway coffee cup (it’s actually called a zarf), the plastic tip on the end of a shoelace (or, to give it its proper name, aglet), the indented area between the bottom of your nose and your top lip (philtrum), the stringy bits you get when you peel a banana (phloem bundles) and a million and one other things that we need to describe but for which we don’t have words.

Thingydoofah, whatjamacallit, thingymabobby, thingamajiggy, whatsit, doo-dah, doohickey, dooflicky, jimjangle …words that make up a much-loved lexicon of everyday ignorance.

And now we can add another one to the list.


In previous posts I’ve talked about the fact no-one is discussing the ‘why’ of mental health. We’ve become very adept at working out what challenges an individual might be facing, but there’s very little debate around what’s led that individual to the point where a mental health issue has presented itself in an obvious way.

That, in turn, has left the UK facing a mental health crisis of monumental proportions; and in large part of this is because the debate isn’t starting early enough to ensure appropriate intervention happens before someone’s emotional wellbeing deteriorates into something more obviously acute.

Mental health is complex and the budgeting and resourcing challenges that dictate care provision are acute, as a recent BBC report into locked rehabilitation wards in mental health care facilities shows all too clearly.

Our society is obsessed with labels. For many people – and particularly for those within medical diagnostics – labels are the convenient panacea for lack of knowledge. A quick canter through Wikipedia under the search phrase ‘list of mental disorders’ brings up a roll-call of no fewer than 72 recognised conditions that have been given this label. And not one of them satisfactorily defines the condition it describes.

While I’d be the first to agree that Wiki is hardly an unarguable source of totally reliable knowledge, the example is telling.

Someone presents with a condition we haven’t seen before and so we stick a tag on it.    

If a person fears that somewhere in the world, somehow a duck is watching them, the likely response of the medical community would be to invent Watching Duck Disorder rather than explore the root cause of the phobia or anxiety (and by the way, the fear of a duck watching you is actually called anatidaephobia and, apart from being one of the most unusual phobias ever, was made famous in a 1988 cartoon by Far Side creator Gary Larson – this article is nothing if not educational).  

In my experience, many mental health issues are invariably due to trauma or lifestyle – and, often, both. But trauma plays a huge role in shaping our future mental wellbeing and rather than rushing to put a ‘disorder’ label on what we don’t yet understand, it’s imperative that we begin the process of understanding trauma itself.

Many manifestations of apparent mental health issues I see are actually subconscious coping mechanisms to deal with a traumatic event in the past. Behavioural tics like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive checking are our busy subconscious mind’s way of keeping us safe. The subconscious doesn’t operate on linear time, so if the trauma hasn’t been processed properly the subconscious will continue to perpetuate these coping strategies long after the trauma has ended in an attempt to keep the individual ‘safe’. 

And the domino effect of that can be catastrophic. If you’ve experienced trauma and adversity as a child or teenager, you’re less likely to know how to self-care and put yourself first. In turn, you’re more likely to live a lifestyle that does not support you emotionally. Typically, if you’ve suffered childhood trauma, you’re more likely to try to please people, say yes when you should be saying no, overwork, over-indulge and overspend and indulge in addictive substances and behaviours. 

And you do these things to avoid the feelings lodged in the subconscious associated with the original trauma.

Yet despite the complexity of what lies behind the symptoms that eventually manifest themselves, the response of the medical community is often to simply slap a disorder label on it.

The reality is that calling something a disorder is both limiting and outdated. It chains the individual to a label for life, implying that somehow that person is forever broken and fundamentally faulty when in fact nothing is further from the truth.

I don’t believe the symptoms that we’re so blithely happy to stick in a box marked disorder always constitute an illness, they are the emotional and sometimes physical projection of an experience.  

Yet we persist in talking of things like OCD and depression as permanent fixtures in a person’s life. Only recently I saw a mental health charity advert which proclaimed My OCD is as much a part of me as my blue eyes and blonde hair. It doesn’t have to be. 

I’m concerned by that. I worry that a lot of advertising around mental health is reinforcing the myth that what you might be dealing with is something to be permanently endured, that the correct response is to simply embrace it as part of who you are.

We’ve come a long way in recognising and understanding the challenges that mental health can bring. It would be a tragedy if, having come so far, our final destination turns out only to be resigned acceptance.

If we can acknowledge and treat with respect whatever past trauma or adversity is fuelling the symptoms, many of the conscious manifestations of the trauma – for example, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and chronic stress – can lift and, in many instances, clear up completely.    

At the very least the volume can be turned down.

In my 15 years as a Hypnotherapist working with the disorders that I am qualified to treat – social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, derealisation disorder, depersonalisation disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, sleep disorders, eating disorders, acute stress disorder, body dysmorphia disorder, major depressive disorder, nightmare disorder and phobic disorder – I’m yet to work with one that cannot be traced back to a traumatic experience or series of adverse life events that have triggered coping behaviour.   

The dictionary definition of disorder is ‘a state of confusion’. People with mental health challenges aren’t necessarily confused. In fact, in most cases, a person dealing with a mental health issue couldn’t be more aware of their condition and how it affects them.

We apply the label disorder when what we’re actually trying to define or describe is a response

Mental health awareness has improved greatly and that’s a wonderful step in the right direction. But what we now need is awareness of trauma and some of the causes of trauma, such as abuse, discrimination, poverty and inequality.

It’s vital that we update the way we think about mental health, stop labelling people with disorders and start really looking at the why so that people actually have a fighting chance of getting well rather than spending their lives managing a label.

Because in the end, what sort of a life is that?    

As a successful hypnotherapist, I’ve learned the importance and power of uncovering what has happened to you, because the past is always the key that unlocks the present and the behaviours you’re presenting now are just a breadcrumb trail to a bigger mystery.

If we can change the way we think about trauma, that may just prove to be the chink of light in the dark tunnel that is the UK’s current approach to mental health care – and I’m all for that. 

Thingy may be a harmless substitute for our ignorance of the ordinary, but the same can’t be said for disorder

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Perhaps one you’ve never asked yourself before. Maybe you’ve never felt you’ve needed to. After all, you might not be displaying any obvious sign that your emotional wellbeing is at risk and perhaps your lifestyle is a predictable drumbeat punctuated with an occasional burst of high octane.

In other words, you’re just … normal. Right? Okay. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re not. Only you know for sure. Or maybe, just maybe … you don’t.

Now I’ve put the question out there, indulge me and take a few minutes to really think about your answer.

And while you’re doing that, let me explain why for a great many people – maybe even for you – their lifestyle is anything but normal and why it’s creating an unnecessary risk.

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How ‘Therapied’ Is Your Hypnotherapist?

Medical hypnotherapy

In the grand scheme of things, you know something might have gone wrong when you’re heating something up in a microwave and there’s a sudden loud bang, a shower of sparks and the house is plunged into sudden darkness.

Like most ordinary people, I know what electricity does, but not how it does it. I can change a lightbulb and, if the circumstances are right and there’s a diagram to work from, a plug. When there’s a normal power cut – in other words, the sort that isn’t accompanied by loud noises and sudden fireworks in the kitchen – I also know where to look to see if a fuse has blown (though what to do next would elude me).

But that’s pretty much as far as my expertise goes and you’ll probably agree that when the Fourth of July is going on in the middle of your kitchen, that probably isn’t quite far enough.

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Why Is No-One Talking About The ‘Why’?

Why Is No-One Talking About The 'Why'?

We’ve probably all been in a situation at least once where we’ve been caught up in a debate with someone who has a point of view which is the polar opposite of our own.

Often these conversations revolve around subjects which might be contentious or controversial or simply evoke tension. During the exchange, it’s likely that you’ve spent a fair amount of time laying out a logical, well-considered argument with examples to illustrate the message you’re trying to convey.

And when it comes to the other person’s time to respond, they simply regurgitate their own opinion – which, of course, barely offers a nod of recognition to your carefully manicured opinions. 

And in your head you’re screaming: BUT YOU’RE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT!!

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The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

For two words with such distinctly different definitions, the tendency for hope and fantasy to be confused for each other is remarkable. They are, of course, linked – but mistaking one for the other can have toxic outcomes.

We can’t live without hope. That’s why, as the old saw says, it dies last. And given the uncertain and turbulent times in which we currently live, that’s nothing if not reassuring: there are worse ways to live than in the enduring belief that things will ultimately get better.

Fantasy – the imagining of impossible or improbable things – also has its place. As the 19th Century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin observed, by striving to do the impossible man has always achieved what is possible. Without fantasy to fuel the hopes and dreams of humankind, it’s entirely possible we would still be drawing on the walls of caves.

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The Silent Agony Of Grief

The Silent Agony Of Grief

All of us have, at some time or another, experienced grief. While it’s an emotion we most commonly associate with death, it’s not limited to the loss of a life. We can grieve for friends or family who move far away, for a lost item that had powerful sentimental worth or for an opportunity we should have taken but didn’t.

As children many of us have lost treasured pets or older relatives. And as we get older, death’s footsteps fall closer to our daily lives, claiming friends, parents, siblings and others we cherish.

Grief in all these circumstances is entirely normal. In fact, it’s also entirely healthy. And most of the time it’s transitory, a process with a beginning and an end that we move through on the way to reclaiming emotional equilibrium at some undefined near-future point.

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The Invisible Pain Of Growing Up

The Invisible Pain Of Growing Up

It’s the hardest job in the world. There’s no interview to see if you have the right skills for it, no fail-proof training to give them to you if you don’t. The original product is something you’ve never dealt with before and it arrives with dozens of accessories but no instruction manual.

In the early days, it emits all sorts of alarms, all of which relate to different operational issues but which, to your spectacularly untrained ear, sound exactly the same.

Through trial and error, you learn how to fix these problems. But no sooner do you resolve one than another, completely new problem arises for you to work out. And pretty soon you’re wondering if you’re worthy or capable of doing the job at all.

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Relationships, Boundaries & The Power Of ‘No’

Relationships, Boundaries & The Power Of 'No'

The greatest way to nourish your heart is to discover the power and beauty of honouring your own boundaries. To do this well, you have to be clear enough in your own awareness to know who you really are and what you truly want. Have you ever said yes to someone when it was really a no? It doesn’t feel good. When we abandon ourselves like that we tend to retract a little from the world. Our spirit pulls back, we are likely to resent the person that has asked us and we lose faith in ourselves a little bit. In some small we have betrayed ourselves and the knock on affect overtime means we are not fully safe or self-expressed.

That is why there is great beauty to be found in deepening your capacity to lovingly say “no”.  By being clear about what feels good and right for you in the moment is a fundamental part of loving yourself and living a life that feels good. This means it is likely you will be able to trust yourself more and it also means that other people will feel a greater depth of confidence from you. Continue reading…

Hypnotherapy In Later Life

Hypnotherapy In Later Life

There’s a tendency to look at older people and envy them the simplicity of their lives. Unless there are obvious signs of failing physical, mental or financial health, it’s easy to see people in their twilight years as a generation that’s found contentment.

As the rest of us hurtle pell-mell through the frenetic hub of an eat-sleep-work-repeat existence, it’s easy to look on with some degree of jealousy at how the pace of life has slowed for those of a certain vintage.

In our eyes, they have acquired the greatest wealth of all: time. And at the same time, we envy the fact they are unburdened by work or financial worries. It’s easy to tell ourselves that those beyond working age are care-free and happy.

But in many cases, it’s fallacy.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.