Sexbots – The Ultimate Emotional Anorexia?

Futuristic Selection Of Female Cyborgs Aroud Picky Man

Before you plunge into this, I need you to set aside your prejudice and your judgement and your preconceptions and find a place of honesty, because what I’m about to write requires thought to override instinct.

A recent one-off documentary on Channel 4 called The Sex Robots Are Coming chronicled the arrival of an artificially intelligent, fully mobile, communicating doll designed to have sex with a human.

If you missed it, it was, in many ways, compulsively fascinating. And in others, it was deeply disturbing and more than a little creepy, for reasons that I suspect may not be entirely obvious to everybody.

On one level, this latest development can be passed off as a piece of technological whimsy that serves as an astonishing testament to the progress of man’s innovation. And, I suppose, there’s merit in acknowledging these robots purely on that basis.

And let’s be honest here, it’s more than invidious in this day and age to feign a mask of prudish disgust that there should be a need to build machines for men and women to have sex with (20% of the potential sex robot market is thought to be women who want a male sex doll).

Show me a man with a pulse and I’ll show you the boy who likely began his relationship with sex and/or pornography by stealing a peek at the dog-eared copy of Playboy his dad kept in the garage. And surely there can’t be many women left for whom the word rabbit only conjures sepia-toned childhood memories of Watership Down.

There is no place now for moral indignation over the availability of material designed to help you to orgasm in your own company or, if you choose, the company of others. It’s been a part of the furniture for too long.

But there is a serious question here about what the advent of a walking, talking non-human sex partner costing up to £8,000 says about our relationship with ourselves, with other people and with the psychology of sex.

The economics are pretty simple. The sex robots are here because there’s a demand for them. And it’s what sits behind that demand that, to me, is the issue.

Modern life is a powerful advocate for society to become increasingly disconnected. We share our lives on social media apps and become addicted to them as we hunger for the approval of others. Addiction to pornography is on the rise. Drug and alcohol addiction continues to chew up police and medical resources. And gambling addiction is also climbing.

All of these addictions are, to some extent, a way for people to avoid true emotional intimacy with themselves. The arrival of the sex robot ramps that disconnection up to a whole new level because it’s an overt way of designing humans out of a human experience. 

Sex robots represent super-charged emotional anorexia, a very real condition which creates an addiction to doing nothing about – or hiding – a huge fear of intimacy which, in turn, is underpinned by fear of abandonment.

If anyone can think of a better example than a sex robot of something inherently designed to prevent us having to deal with true physical and emotional intimacy, then I’d like to hear it.

Emotional and/or social anorectics and people with anorectic tendencies have different behaviour patterns. They may seek out the company of many people to avoid having to manage a more intimate social situation with one person. Others feel overwhelmed by all social environments. Others still will shun social interaction completely, or quietly take a back seat.

Anorexia is a master of the incognito and so is often difficult to recognise. It is more than just fear of intimacy – we all suffer with that to one degree or another within the parameters of traits like shyness or modesty that might be defined as ‘normal’ – it is the active process of doing nothing to trust or commit or allow oneself to become vulnerable enough to experience intimacy with another human being.

When I work with victims of abandonment trauma – and trauma always has an element of abandonment in it, since it invariable happens in isolation or is an isolating experience – I continually find people who are suffering with emotional anorexia

When people attempt to give them love, they struggle to receive it and, prior to treatment, have preferred to remain in a state of emotional starvation rather than risk abandonment, which is their deepest fear.

Some behaviours that can be symptoms of emotional anorexia are perfectly normal on their own, as long as they’re transient.

Not found the right person to share your life with, temporarily or otherwise, yet? That’s fine, it can take time.

Not finding the right ‘tribe’ to fit in with is okay, as long as you know there’s a tribe you do want to be part of.

Happy in your own company? Great – provided you’re also comfortable in the company of others.

Choosing independence to build self-reliance? Good for you. Just don’t let independence be the word you use to describe loneliness.

And so it goes on. Individual characteristics of emotional anorexia on their own aren’t necessarily indicative of a problem. But if they’re all present all the time? Well, that’s a definite red flag.

The story of Davecat, a man who lives with two sex dolls, makes for fascinating reading and lends some weight to how sex robots and emotional anorexia are linked.

Davecat’s blog reveals that he consistently went for unavailable people, suggesting entrenched compromised self-esteem, abandonment & emotional anorexia issues and I highlight his story for no other reason than to make two points.

First that I find it concerning that synthesised human-lookalikes are already seen as a replacement for people like Davecat, who are already acutely and often clinically isolated; second that in providing the dolls we make it almost impossible for the Davecats of the world to have even the slightest chance of working through their underlying issues.

But there are darker concerns, too. What, I wonder, are the dangers that in the hands of socially awkward shy young men, the use of sex dolls with human attributes might reinforce objectification and exploitation of women, just as studies show extreme pornography can?

Regardless of whether that’s a question we can yet answer, it’s a certain fact that sex robots will do nothing at all to upskill their users socially. Ignore the stories that the robots’ makers spin about ‘helping’ people who struggle with human interaction. The reverse is far more likely to be true for no other reason than the robots aren’t human

Conversely, the debate around sex robots has also included hand-wringing contributions from people who talk darkly about the machines becoming a replacement for men and women. That seems faintly ridiculous to me, because well-adjusted people will never choose to routinely sleep with a robot.

Those at risk are the majority of the people who will use them and who are dealing with social isolation and trauma.

And for those who argue, as the makers of the robots do, that one benefit will be the provision of physical and emotional companionship for widowers, that’s nonsense. In fact, it’s far more likely that instead they will simply magnify the sense of loss, prolong grief and encourage greater loneliness.

The technology that created these dolls may be advanced, but the emotional intelligence certainly isn’t.   


Is Your Child Getting An ‘A’ In Anxiety?

Worried And Sad Student Online

Next week, teenagers up and down the country will be sitting their GCSE mocks. 

This may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t have a 15- or 16-year-old in the house and have been blissfully unaware of the unfolding drama being played out behind closed doors. 

But for those who do have such a creature hibernating behind a closed bedroom door, the weeks since the end of the summer must have felt a little like watching a gathering storm edging every closer.

These days, Year 11 pupils (that’s the 5th Year for those of us who still work in old money) are under pressure to do well from the moment they walk through the door of their secondary school as a fresh-faced 11-year-old. And they’re under pressure to perform measurably well. 

Whether little Johnny or Jennifer end up in the top set or a mixed ability set in French is no longer down to the arbitrary decision of a mere teacher using years of experience to gauge both achievement in the present and the potential of the future. Johnny and Jennifer are now assessed and tested to determine the probably limit of their academic aspirations.

I’ve talked at length before about why I think SATs and other tests have an unacceptable impact on children’s mental health and, if you missed it, you can read that here, so I’m not going to rehash those arguments here.

Instead, I want to focus on why parents who talk about their children suffering ‘exam stress’ might be in danger of misdiagnosing what’s going on in their child’s head.

As a society, we tend to talk a lot about how stressed we are. We say we’re ‘stressing about what to wear’, when we actually mean we’re undecided or struggling to decide; we feel irritated by the fact the house is a mess, but translate that frustration as, ‘I’m feeling a bit stressed out about the cleaning; a difficult commute to the office becomes a ‘stressful journey’ 

We offer stress as a go-to rational explanation for our children’s challenging behaviour as well. Being ‘stressy’ is almost a euphemism for the blizzard of hormones in a teenage body.

In fact, stress has become the ultimate euphemism of the modern age. We hear and see it everywhere. And the plain fact of the matter is that the euphemistic stress which parades in our lives as a convenient catch-all for any mildly irksome situation has a massive devaluing effect on real stress that affects children and adults in ways most people can barely begin to imagine.

If you want to know what your ‘stressed’ pre-exam child is really feeling, then let me help you out: they feel a profound sense of fear. From their first registration, they have been conditioned to succeed. Failure has never been an option in a world where tables and rankings and Ofsted inspections rule.

And so failure becomes the bogeyman hiding under the bed at night. What if I fail? What if I fail? What if I fail? They are terrified of what their teachers will think, of what their parents will thing and, probably most importantly, of what their friends will think. It gnaws and gnaws away at self-esteem and self-confidence and self-worth and it promotes reclusive and reticent behaviour.

The reason your child won’t talk to you has nothing to do with it being their job to hate their parents; they’re not talking because they don’t want to admit to you that they’re worried, because if they do that, the crisis of confidence will actually be real. 

And so they internalise it and what you see are the behavioural and emotional symptoms that manifest themselves as surliness or sulkiness. And we label this perceived attitude problem as stress because that seems to fit.

If you’re sitting there worrying that you’ve mistaken fear for stress, welcome to a very large and illustrious club: the majority of parents of GCSE-age children are fellow members. The problem is, there’s very little support available for parents to manage themselves and their children through the most challenging year of school life.

So, what can you do to help? Well, obviously hypnotherapy is an option and if you’d like to talk to us about how our treatments can help you and your child or children, we’d love to hear from you.

But in general day to day life, validation, recognition and reassurance goes a long way. Children need to understand they have a worth that transcends academic achievement. Repeat the mantra that their best is always good enough. Make them take a break from the books and enjoy more of the fleeting time they have as young people. Give them a hug and tell them you love them and are proud of them, whatever their results. Offer your help with revision, but allow them to refuse. Within reason, choose to interpret their infuriating outbursts as essential venting rather than rank insolence and ingratitude (even though it may actually be both of those things and more). Praise their achievements and meet failure with sanguinity. 

In short, be there for them now and make sure they know you’re there for them every day. It goes a lot further than you might think.


Is Your Love Story A B-Movie?

Posterini 574196252839 (1)

As a concept, it’s a fantastic script. Two star crossed lovers wounded by a past littered with one failed relationship after another. Life gives them one last battle to fight: the battle to find each other.

It’s a sweeping, soaring, tear-fest of two people hampered by fate and shackled to a future they can’t yet see but which they both know lies somewhere just beyond their immediate reach. It’s Gable and Leigh, Bogart and Bergman, Tracy and Hepburn. It’s Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln in that scene in Love Actually. Except in your version, Keira doesn’t let him walk away.

You have the script and, because this is your love story, you have a ready-made cast. It’s an epic romantic blockbuster destined to smash all box office records.

The only problem is that your subconscious has been tasked with job of directing it.

As the director of your personal movie, your subconscious is more Quentin Tarantino than, say, Steven Spielberg. It’s opinionated and often comes with its own agenda, drawing on your past experiences to inform your present and future. If you grew up in a house of drama, your subconscious is more likely to push you toward dramatic love and tempestuous hit-and-run run hook-ups. 

More potent – and therefore emotionally dangerous – is that your inner Tarantino is also usually trying to resolve what is unresolved from your past. Your parents may have been emotionally unavailable, and so your subconscious will propel you towards unavailable partners in an attempt to heal the wounds of the past. And guess what? That just creates more pain.

It’s not uncommon for me to see clients who prove to be subconsciously trying to address abandonment issues by going out with a narcissist – the perfect representative cause of their traumatic or unfulfilling childhood experiences.   

So, your subconscious doesn’t necessarily see the script in the way that you do. In his (or her) version, there are high speed chases, car crashes, jealous rivals, angry protagonists, high drama and arguments. Lots of arguments.

Your head may be filled with an exotic, pulsating romance set in the Orient or the glittering nightscape of New York, but what your subconscious will instead make is a drama-documentary set in the ordinary context of real life. Your real life.

You see a Hollywood ending. Your subconscious sees the opportunity to resolve the unresolved. And what you get is a B-reel destined to go straight to video (or, in today’s money, straight to download).

Hollywood loves to sell us the 90-minute dream. We’re conditioned to believe that love really can be forged in the time that it takes to consume a big bag of popcorn. But the reality is that good things take time and if the relationship you’re in is heavy on drama then the chances are you’re not starring in the main feature.

Very few of us go into a relationship knowing it will end. What’s the point? Most of the time life’s too short. The sex might be great, but contrary to what your hormones might be saying at the time, it doesn’t necessarily buy permanence.

In the main, we commit to other people because we think there’s a future in it.

Forget the first few dates when we’re flush with excitement and promise. In those early days, we’re all walking adverts for ourselves anyway. We say, do and wear the right things. We crank up empathy, sympathy and compassion, while tenderness and consideration get dialled up to 11. But in the end, it always takes time to find out who the other person really is.

Problems in relationships often come when they start fast. You meet someone, and it feels like you’ve been hit by a train. You’ve found ‘the one’. I call these ‘cosmic relationships’ – but intensity is not intimacy and while fast-forwarding the future can be a fix for the emptiness of the present, true love rarely happens in two  days, even two dreamlike days. 

There’s also a danger that in putting the other person in a box labelled ‘Soul Mate’, you create a high level of expectation very quickly – and when that person fails to live up to it, the disappointment is that much greater.

When commitment is too fast the relationship doesn’t have the chance to develop the trust that’s needed for both people to be able to reveal their shortcomings and imperfections.

We all have those – the inability to see our role in past relationship catastrophes, our short temper, tendency towards guilt-tripping and other less than glossy aspects that we tend not to reveal in the first couple of months.

As British philosopher Alain De Botton says: “A standard question on any initial dinner date should simply be: ‘So in what particular ways are you crazy?”

In cosmic relationships launched on fantasy, the eventual appearance of our less-than-charming characteristics means the other person can feel as though they’ve been victims of false advertising.  

Intensity is like Styrofoam – it takes up lots of space, but it lacks substance. There’s no room for authenticity or intimacy. I see many clients who continually mistake intensity for intimacy, but intimacy takes time. By contrast, intensity is often instant – just as it is also often unavailability, too.   

The key elements of a B-Movie are drama, intensity, breathlessness, no boundaries, self-abandonment – the perfect ingredients for a super toxic relationship soup.

The antidote? 

It’s important to look at the subconscious issues at play and resolve them and that means understanding that it’s not down to being ‘unlucky in love’ or ‘not having met the right person yet’ or any of the other twaddle we are fed by the media

If you are continually attracting the ‘same’ kind of unhealthy relationship the chances are you’re playing a part in effectively re-creating your trauma in your relationships, and it’s vital to put an end to that negative pattern. That means finding a way of clearing out toxic beliefs about love and self in your past.  Yes this does take both work and time, but the alternative is an existence of emotional pain.

Ultimately, it’s about learning to love yourself because the stronger we get, and the more we fill our lives with love, joy, and positive actions, the less we will enter these combustible liaisons. The more solid our sense of self-esteem and sense of self, the less we feel we need to fill an emotional void with the ‘fix’ of another person who comes on like a freight train in less than a hot minute. 

Trusting in our path and worth should give us the confidence and grounding to know that taking things slowly can and will yield everything we desire, eventually. And the more solid our sense of self-love and worth, the more likely we are to recognise who will be a good life partner, and have a relationship that really works 

But it requires the willingness to look at our own part in what we are re-creating,  setting the intention to make different choices combined with the patience to walk mindfully through the initial clumsy bit of dating to find out who we’re really giving ourselves to. 

If you’ve been lucky, you’ll end up with that Hollywood ending. If not, you may well just have to re-write your movie script.


Anxiety Isn’t Love

Red Bondage

I have a question for you, but before I ask it, I want you to picture the scene.

Imagine that every evening at 7pm you leave your house and take a 30-minute walk into town to the same bar. You sit in the same chair at the same table and you order the same drink, because it’s your favourite and it’s the only place for miles where you can buy it.

But the problem is that every night, at 9pm, a well-dressed and apparently normal guy walks into the bar, comes over to your table and punches you in the face.

This happens every night, every week, every month. Without fail.

My question is, would you stop going to the bar? Or would you keep going, but ask your doctor to prescribe something to help you cope with the pain you know you’ll be dealing with every night?

You’d stop going to the bar, wouldn’t you? Forget the fact it’s the only place where you can get your favourite drink, it’s not worth the pain. So, it’s a stupid question, right?

Well, not really.

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Are You Taking Your Mental Health Offroad?

Old Car Instrument Panel Detail

If you have a really good dig down the back of your sofa and scrape together the £180,000 you’d need, you could buy yourself a Ferrari 458 (in the obligatory Ferrari red, obviously).

With nearly 500 horses under the bonnet, it’ll take you from 0-60mph in just three seconds and, if the law permitted and the roads were clear, could take you from London to Liverpool in just under an hour.

Chances are, having found yourself in the lucky position to be able to afford to buy one, you wouldn’t then drive your shiny new supercar through a ploughed field or pull donuts on a gravel drive.

And why? Well, because a hundred and eighty grand is a fair bit of money, you’re probably quite proud of the car and having invested so heavily in a machine that comes as close as it’s possible to come to engineering perfection, you want to look after it.

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Does The Financial Wellbeing Of Your Business Mirror The Mental Health Of Your Team?

London Cityscape At Sunset

On Monday I had the privilege of being asked to lead a session on mental health in the workplace for the TruMunity Unconference in London, a recruitment event for HR leaders and recruitment professionals with informality and learning at its heart.

When thinking about what to talk about, I kept coming back to the role business has to play in tackling the mental health crisis the UK faces.

A study into wellbeing in the workplace recently estimated that around 97 million work days are lost each year in the UK to mental health issues.

Imagine the impact of that figure for a moment. It equates to more than a quarter of a million years. And if you’re having trouble processing that, it’s around 50,000 years longer than we’ve been on the earth.

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Is Your Mental Health In The Red?

Cutting credit card with no balance

Over the years I have treated a great many people struggling with a variety of psychological issues. Some of the issues I treat are straightforward, some less so. But more often than not the root cause of the problems my clients face is one of the unholy trinity: love, money and work.

Years ago, as society began to understand the DNA of mental health, it was a commonly-held belief that debt caused depression. To an extent, that’s still the case. But there’s increasing evidence to show that the opposite is also true and that a significant life event like the loss of a job, chronic and debilitating poor health or the disintegration of a relationship can often be debt’s smoking gun.

But whether debt is the chicken or the egg in the evolution of poor mental health, the truth is that the impact of even mild financial stress on your wellbeing can be the start of a vicious circle that leads, by increments, into emotional paralysis.

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Who’s To Blame In The Fame Game?

Celebrity posing for paparazzi on red carpet

Triskaidekaphobia is the formal word for the fear of the number 13 and it’s a phobia that I’ve treated occasionally in my time as a hypnotherapist. But if you happen to be famous, a far scarier number – and one deserving of its own phobic classification – is surely the number 27.

Depending on how old you are, you might now be thinking of Amy Winehouse or Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison. Possibly Kurt Cobain. Maybe Brian Jones.

No-one is old enough to be thinking about Alexandre Levy, even though the Brazilian composer became the founding member of the now notorious 27 Club in 1892.

And in case none of this is making any sense to you, all the aforementioned musicians – together with 57 other people who achieved celebrity in a variety of different ways – died at the age of 27.

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Why We Must Educate The Government About Education

Girl having problem with learning

I’m rarely driven to the point of invective, but recently I’ve read about two pieces of bewildering Government policy the logic of which, no matter how hard I try, I’m unable to rationalise.

Worse, I’m genuinely worried that together they could, If I’ve interpreted them correctly, produce the most emotionally damaged generation of people we’ve ever seen.

First came the news that  100,000 teenagers will be provided with mental health training to help them cope with the pressure of exams.

Before we get to the second policy that’s troubling me, let’s just dwell on that, for a moment. Consider the process that has led the Government to that position. Consider the number of people who must have been involved in the process of constructing the financial and political argument so compelling that the Cabinet Office felt bound to adopt it. Consider what the implications of that are.

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Curse Or Addiction?

Dollar Sign Disolve

“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. 

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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.