The Sickening Truth About Secrets

George Michael (1)

Over the last few days, former Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell has suggested that George Michael may have been tortured by a childhood secret that proved to be both the singer’s inspiration and his curse.

Michael was, of course, a global superstar, recognised as one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation. A string of bubblegum hits in the Eighties with Wham! made him the bedroom-wall-pin-up for teen girls – and some teen boys – around the world.

And as he outgrew the sockless deck shoes and coiffured highlights and forged a more contemporary image rendered in brooding charcoal and black and punctuated by goatees and designer shades, his songwriting became similarly substantial, its themes darker and more complex.

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A Note On Addiction

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“Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Princess Diana, speaking to Martin Bashir for Panorama, November 1995

It was the interview she was never supposed to give. A candid airing of the Royal Family’s dirty laundry that the establishment had tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress and which effectively sealed Diana’s permanent exile from royal life.

The third person in her marriage to the Prince of Wales was, of course, the woman he would later marry, Camilla Parker-Bowles, the current Duchess of Cornwall.

Of course, Diana was by no means the first or last person to have endured an intruder in their personal life and this week we saw evidence of another relationship left in tatters by the destructive presence of an unwanted companion.

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When The Solution Has Become The Problem

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Whether your view of human history is founded on Darwinism or doctrine, a common factor of man’s existence on Earth has been his almost obsessive need to fit in with his environment.

As social animals designed to co-exist in group, we are defined by elements that are as diverse as they are disparate. Blood, money, breeding, interest, appearance, education, profession and more are all part of our individual social DNA and determine our physical and mental behaviours.

And when we can’t fit in, two things generally happen. Either we modify our own behaviours to become more like the group we want to belong to; or we seek to mask our social discomfort by finding a different focus.

Sometimes that can be harmless. Often, it’s quite the opposite. Welcome to addiction.

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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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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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The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

Life, it seems, has become an endless pursuit of perfection. The perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect face. 

Except, of course, it’s never enough. No matter what we achieve, we keep redefining what we mean by perfection. Yet I’d argue that when we define perfection, we’re instead allowing ourselves to be defined by how we want to be seen by others.

This is certainly true of celebrities. The rock stars, film icons and sporting heroes who occupy the unrelenting attention of the world’s media live in a strange and terrifying alternate reality in which they are presented with an image of themselves and experience the suffocating pressure of trying to live up to it.

A life of celebrity can be almost Orwellian, where the definition of self can become so blurred that the person in the spotlight in turn becomes convinced that the image they see on the news, in the papers and on film is actually who they are or should become.

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Addiction: Rat Park, or rat race?

Addiction: Rat Park, or rat race?

In the late 1970s Bruce Alexander, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, developed a contentious hypothesis. In a global society which focused entirely on the role drugs played in addiction, Alexander looked instead at a different enemy: the environment.

At the risk of over-simplifying things, he believed drug use – and therefore addiction – was much less likely to be prevalent if people were given alternative choices to make. Unsurprisingly, the science community all but laughed at him.

But Alexander believed he was onto something and to prove it, he developed the Seduction Experiment based in something that came to be known as Rat Park.

Rat Park was a sensory environment 200 times the size of a laboratory rat cage. He filled it with all manner of diversionary objects and gave the rats housed there two water sources: one plain, one heavily laced with morphine.

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Eat Too Much, Drink Too Much, Smoke Too Much?

Eat Too Much, Drink Too Much, Smoke Too Much?

The subconscious mind can be voracious in it’s appetites with overeating, excessive drinking and an increasing reliance on nicotine being commonplace.

It can be really challenging to control consciously, especially if you’re using these outlets to deal with stress, anxiety or uncomfortable feelings.

How do you know if it’s too much? Well, you may notice what I call the ‘domino’ effect, here’s an example using all three: you get home stressed and wired after working late, the first thing you do is reach for a glass of wine to relax. The glass of wine becomes a bottle as it feels good but you don’t sleep well that night as alcohol affects your sleep. Waking up the next day hungover, perhaps anxious, maybe ‘beating yourself up’, your blood sugar is low so you reach for quick fix food, maybe coffee and nicotine will feature throughout the day just to get you through it. Not great but not a problem if it’s occasionally, however if it becomes a regular habit it starts to seriously affect your health, deplete your emotional and mental wellbeing, leaving you feeling under-resourced and below par.

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You Can Never Get Enough Of What You Don’t Need

You Can Never Get Enough Of What You Don't Need

I’m talking about how we can use money here. If we have unmet needs on a deeper level, and we don’t acknowledge and identify these, we can walk around with a subtle or not so subtle persistent, feeling of ‘hunger’ or lack of fulfilment which is actually a deeper sense of deprivation. Attempts to fill the hole of deprivation can take many forms such as over-eating, drinking, partying hard and excessive working but one of the most common ways I have seen it play out with clients in my decades practice is financially.

If a sense of inner personal security is what is missing from your life, no amount of internet shopping will make up for that. If you’re craving intimacy excessive gift buying won’t meet that. In a nutshell: if you’re not getting the proper ‘nourishment’ you need from life you can’t make up for that no matter how many hand-bags you binge-buy! You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

There is a big difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, our needs are deeper and are often to do with our growth, our creativity, our path in life and our connection to our ‘self’, our life and others.
You can tell if something is a ‘want’ as it’s usually accompanied by a ‘I must have it right now’ feeling!

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The ‘Control / Release’ Cycle

The 'Control / Release' Cycle

The control / release cycle is talked about in John Bradshaw’s excellent book ‘Healing The Shame That Binds You’.

The control / release cycle is this: a period of rigid control and boundaries around an area of your life – stringent dieting and exercise for example, followed by a period of release – when you fall into a ‘binge’ pattern: eat all of the foods you forbade yourself in the ‘control’ period and avoid the gym like the plague!

The control / release cycle means you either have total control ‘compulsivity’ or you have no control ‘addiction’, they are interconnected and set each other up as the more intensely you control, the more you require the balance of release and the more you self destructively release (undoing all your hard work) the more intensely you require control and so on.

If there are feelings of low self-esteem, shame and self-punishment from childhood underneath the control / release cycle it seems to intensify both sides of the tension: extreme control followed by extreme release.

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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.