Updated: Nov 27, 2019
I have previously discussed stigmas and stereotypes in Mental Health on The Chrissy B Show, Sky 191
"You don't look like a psycho" is how a 'friend' of theirs once described a client who disclosed a fight with mental health issues. It is no wonder that people choose not to say anything. The daily fight that people with mental and emotional health concerns go through is one that is not made easier by others' reactions. ...and that is before one adds judgment.
What is someone suffering from emotional pain supposed to look like? How should someone, who is so mentally broken because they are simply trying to survive, appear?
Admittedly mental health issues being an invisible struggle is becoming more embedded into our consciousness, but there is yet a darker undertone that needs to be addressed. Those who manage to "hold it together" are often in need of the most support - and least likely to receive it. While with mental health issues, there is a small chance that someone close may realise something is not right, this is not always the case with emotional pain that can be inflicted - for example through psychological domestic abuse or coercive control.
Invisible pain, visible shield
In my piece on gaslighting I emphasised the importance of recognising that psychological manupulation leaves no mark on the body, although, over time, there is often a marked change in behaviour. However, depending on the person experiencing the abuse and often relating to whether they have children (ie. the need to put on a front), there is no such thing as a victim "look".
" I’m wearing my doc martins, leather look trousers and a tee with a tan colour teddy bear coat to the floor and I’m sitting here wondering if I should change because I don’t look “victim” enough to get a non mol order agreed. I f****** hate that, not feeling like I’m going to be taken seriously because I look like I have my shit together. Truth is I feel ugly and weak inside. The clothes and the make up is all a distraction." (airingher30laundry Blog) This extract is from the blog of a domestic abuse survivor, sharing her story in order to help others gain insight into the depths of pain and lonliness the psychological manipulation from the person you love can bestow. That is, the pain before she had to question whether she looked credible enough to be believed.
It made me question - do we really have to "look" a certain way before our experiences are validated? ...and how are we judged we if do not conform? Not only that but, what if the outer shell is all a person has left - are we really saying they need to drop the only shield they hold?
"A little more mascara"
"So when it's cold and when it's bleak I simply rouge the other cheek
For I can face another day in slipper satin lingerie
To make depression disappear I screw some rhinestones on my ear
And put on my brooches and tiara
And a little more mascara on." (La Cage Aux Folles)
This is a moving song where Albin lets us into his coping mechanism - a little more mascara. Seeing beauty on the outside is the way he copes with breaking within. The saddest part of that is, the outer beauty is the very thing he is judged on, and often the very thing he, and the earlier blog author chastise themselves on most heavily because of all the messages of "inner beauty". In these cases, there is little left inside to feel beautiful.
Psychologists often warn against some coping mechanisms - recreational drugs, compulsive shopping, sexual promiscuity because the damage is clear...yet the seeming "self care" of a little more mascara (not necessarily to hide a black eye, but to just feel a little bit normal) can sometimes be praised. I have done this myself - because one of the signs of depression can be a lack of care for one's appearance, encouragement to have a shower and face the day is seen as a positive step. We too need to rethink.
If the mask is all you have, how can we ask you to drop it?
The way people cope is very different. We know that throwing oneself into work or sport can be a healthy distraction - and "overdrive" is often recognised at some point by someone close; but how do you see behind a painted smile? ...especially when that smile may have had a long time to be perfected.
We try to notice.
And if approached with a disclosure we ask more without judgment and signpost if we cannot help.
As a coach, I know people seek me out specifically (and only) when they have something they wish to discuss. My job is then to work through with you to the root of the issue. But as a friend I try to do the above before the point of crisis. It's not easy, and I've been through the sting of seeing my circles shrink to those who - I'm grateful - do the same for me.
...and if beauty is truly within, then can we connect with our hearts not our eyes?
Most of my close friends live quite far away, and social media (the visual) is all I get to see. So I try and keep in touch - to connect regularly - on a non visual level:
- Drop your friends a message offline just to see how they are (a client of mine talks about her friends who dial a "missed call" just to let her know they are thinking of her). I try and check in on those close to me every other week or so. (Go on, do this now!)
- Be mindful who your good friends are. It IS a lot of effort to maintain healthy friendships, let that guide you.
- If you know that presenting the "outer" is one of your protective mechanisms, be mindful of when you are focused on it so you can recognise that there is something you need to deal with.
- Then reach out to one of those friends you know you can trust.
- Recognise that people are often trying their best (even when they don't respond in the way you need), and any failures are often not personal - this could otherwise prevent you from trying to reach out again if the response is not what you'd hoped.
- Always remember, if you need a shield, no matter what it is, you are still fighting - try to draw on that strength a little longer and reach once more - mascara or not.
If you need support with mental health visit MIND
Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness" (Pearson & FT series) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (Pub Pearson, 2016, Book of the Month in WH Smith Travel Stores). She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Training Consultant with her training consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She often presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, and is part of the Amity University conference panel. She currently lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness and offers psychological consultancy in these areas to organisations.