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Teaching and Learning. Wednesday January 18, 2017

I am surrounded by teachers in my personal life. My husband is a primary school classroom assistant (a nice change from his previous career in banking); my son is a secondary school teacher of IT; my dearest friend is a professor of physics. In fact, thinking about it, many of my friends are teachers in one way or another.

One of the techniques they all use is to get their pupils to teach each other. Apparently, once you explain a concept to someone else, you start to really "get" it yourself.

I wasn't sure about this. I couldn't quite understand how this concept worked, until last night.

My younger daughter had just watched "Titanic".

"Mummy – it was so sad!" she wailed. "How do I get rid of the sad thoughts in my head? I am so depressed, just thinking about it. Why did Jack have to die?"

Well, having gone through it with her, explaining that Jack was actually representative of all the men on the Titanic and that, if he had survived, the film would not have made a true point and would have been the worse for it, she understood a little more. After all, 87% of third class male passengers died in the Titanic Disaster – the film needed to reflect that. 97% of female first class passengers survived.

But that wasn't the point. My second daughter, unlike her hard-as-nails sister*, is sensitive and empathic to the point of pain.

We discussed, not for the first time, whether she needs to be responsible about the art to which she chooses to expose herself. In explaining to her that some people are just so sensitive that upsetting art can haunt them for years, I realised I was explaining to myself.

The War Museum in Ypres is a case in point. I wish I had not visited that museum: the images still distress me more than two decades later. There are films I wish I had not seen; books I wish I had not read; pictures I wish I had just passed by. And Heaven knows, some news clips I wish I could un-see!

Don't get me wrong: I appreciate the art. I acknowledge that the artists felt they had to express those particular truths. I can see it is important to make people stop and to think and to feel.

But some of us think and feel too much, to the point where it impacts our health.

So it is not cowardice which makes me screen my viewing, reading and listening experiences; which directs me towards the positive and "feel-good" end of TV, cinema and literature. It is wisdom, borne of experience. Wisdom I wish to pass onto my younger daughter.

And possibly to you too.

So what do you think? Do we have a duty to experience pain in art and in current affairs, or can we produce a doctor's note to get out of it? And if we can, should we?

A Moodscope member.

*For all of you critical of this description, please note that it is her own and that I have her permission, indeed encouragement, to use it!

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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the room above the garage Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 6:14am

Hello Marydoll, i'd attempt to save the world if I could so I've learned the hard way that I can't and must edit my exposure! I listen and watch so little news these days for this reason. Perhaps it's ignorant but I need to care for what is inside my own front door first. I fully understand your daughter..I remember coming out of the cinema after Titanic having bitten the inside of my cheek hard enough to give me a problem!! Thank you, love ratg x.

Molly Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 6:47am

Totally agree, with wanting to save the world. Can't be done so need to look after yourself and your own. It's not ignorance, it's reality, ignorance would be if you never felt that in the first place xx

Jeanne Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 6:29am

Yes, Mary, I agree with you. And possibly it is ESP's (extra sensitive people) who suffer most from an overload of distressing images from the news, media etc. , especially in today's climate of constant streaming of bad news. ESP's are very vulnerable in this respect. I am nearly 70 and have suffered most of my life quietly under the illusion that I was 'too soft'! I have only recently understood and learned about ESP's, and can accept that this is what I am, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. It does also usually come with some creative benefits, and experiences at times, of unadulterated joy and heightened perception of beauty. If only I had know about this 'condition' when I was younger. We really need more awareness, tolerance, and public awareness of this. I admire the way you have responded to your daughter, and it will have helped her greatly that you have acknowledged and respected her sensitive feelings. I remember being traumatised by something extremely unpleasant which I read in a newspaper at the age of ten, the effects of which had a spoiling effect on at least the next 50 years of my life, until I eventually came to terms with what I had read. Now, I understand more, I deliberately limit the amount of news I watch on tv, and avoid violent films and books. My life is much better for it. So please everyone pass the message on that we need to understand ESP's with tolerance and kindness. It is just another manifestation of being human, like being short, or tall, or having to wear glasses. We just have a hightened sensitivity to pain and distress. It is wonderful that you recognised and accepted this in your daughter, and have taken steps to teach her coping mechanisms to help her navigate the inevitable traumatic times which she will encounter in her rich and multi-faceted life. Accepting and understanding is the first step. I am so glad you raised this subject.

Jane Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 7:33am

Hi Jeanne, I've never heard of ESP. I wonder if this is me. I'm going to research it. Thank you.

LP Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 6:40am

Hi Mary,

A friend of mine once reassured me by saying "you just feel very deeply" which is so true. We happen to come from a teaching background too. Perhaps being very empathetic leads some people to teaching and to anxiety and or depression.

Your blog reminded me of when I was a student I had a "debate" with a friends flatmate about a doumentary he was watching. I didnt want to see the images and left the room. He argued that I should watch it. I didnt object to it being made or him watching it. I just chose not to. I was already aware of similar images and didnt want to be exposed to more! I've decided not to watch the news before bed either.

My daughter, now in her teens wont watch horror movies and from time to time when her friends decided to watch one at a late night gathering, she'd quite happily find a cosy spot to curl up and have a nap! Good on her I say!

Thanks for a great blog Mary. I'm going to have a think about the opposite to start the day! I go for feel good cinema art music and tv too! Funny how specific examples don't spring to mind as easily. Any suggestions anyone? :)
Bright and warm wishes to all. LPxx

Mary Wednesday Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 8:07am

Films: the exotic marigold hotel, 1 &2. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Mamma Mia, Cold Comfort Farm (bbc adaptation)

Tutti Frutti Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 8:25am

I read the book of Salmon fishing in the Yemen and it was brilliant. On TV how about Dave Gorman Modern Life is Goodish (on at the moment on Dave), or a nice box set of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 7:32am

Hi Mary, thank you for this. It is so me! I'm interested that Jeanne has mentioned ESP. I've never heard of it but wonder if this is me. I've been told I'm 'too sensitive' all my life. I never read the newspapers and yes Titantic still haunts me, one particular scene. I refuse to watch it again. The downside of avoiding news is that my general knowledge is poor and I have been accused of being an ostrich. But I just get too upset. It's a running jokewith my kids that I'm likely to cry at just about any film going! X

Eva Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 8:09am

Hi Jane and Jeanne, I know this as HSP, highly sensitive person as defined by Dr Elaine Aaron HSPs can be sensitive in many diverse ways and be extra and introverts.

Jane Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 9:17pm

Thanks so much Eva. I will take a look at this also.

Deborah Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 7:49am

Great post, and questions.
Thank goodness for the on off switch, the mute button, the ability to flick between current affairs and music stations, and to choose not to buy or read the paper on a negative headline day.
The media and the arts are such brilliant resources to "drive".
I feel they get richer and richer with age, as the world seemingly gets smaller.
I'd trust your instincts with your children who, without wanting to wrap in cotton wool, you know better then anyone.

Tutti Frutti Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 7:58am

Hi Mary
I don't think I am especially sensitive so perhaps this is another of those factors which can be involved with mental health but isn't always. My husband is more likely to cry at sad films than I am - although there was one thing we saw with my daughter (Curious Incident?) where a sad but from the parent's perspective set both of us off and she looked at us as if we were mad. I do still find that there are certain things I choose not to see. Eg The only two 18 films I have ever seen were very good but I decided about 20 years ago that I will stick to 15 certificates! Similarly I enjoy some detective books/dramas but nothing too realistic and gruesome.

So to all you more sensitive souls out there, take care of yourselves and don't worry about recognising your limits.
Love and hugs TF xoxo

Eva Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 8:25am

Hi, I am an HSP, but I have no problem with challenging films or documentaries and I enjoy horror and ghost stories. I'll often curl up with a Stephen King when I am unwell. If I am not well I don't watch the news, in fact this has carried over into wellness as I still don't watch it, TV news is so dumbed down these days it irritates me to hear them repeat the same words over and over.

I think it's entirely up to you what you watch, nobody should be forced to watch something they don't want to. I do think a lot of it also comes down to taste and perception. I greatly admire artists who have the courage to mine their /or a dark side and present it, often to raise political awareness which I think is a tremendous achievement which I salute. There is so much amazing art and culture to immerse yourself in it excites me to be able to do this, I am often emotionally moved by artists.

I myself tend to avoid the pulp TV programmes that are currently aired, reality and entertainment shows as I tend to find them tedious and sometimes tasteless and a reminder of how distracted our society has become, Aldous Huxley warned us of mass distraction by our media and governments and I think we are right in the middle of that, which I find scary, that's the thing that haunts me.

Leah Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 9:52am

Thanks for a thought provoking blog.
I respond differently to fiction than I do to non-fiction. 8F I watch a movie even if it about a true story but has actors I just enjoy the story.
Graphic disturbing news I avoid and horrible photos I avoid.

I think we all know our limits.
Ratg I wanted to change the world now I realise I can barely change myself.

John Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 9:52am

thank you for your post - it was very thought provoking and illuminating. I am not an HSP/ESP but I do know people who are, and your post explains them very well

Pablo Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 2:31pm

Thanks Mary for your blog. I am a Extra Sensitive fella (60yrs old). I tend to refer to myself as a delicate flower. But.... this only seems to occur when I am in the black hole of depression. Normally, I can watch films/TV and the news and moderate violence will wash over me but when my mood is with the black dog, I have to watch what I am exposed too. I will also continue to be careful now when I am well again. I think star trek or star wars will be my new limit for violent films. I think that Tutti Frutti's idea of sticking to 15 certificates is not a bad idea.

Sarah Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 2:35pm

Hello Mary as a sensitive myself and being around other sensitives I can totally empathise with your daughter. It is not always easy seeing things depicted that are based on real life. However, they are based on real life and as such are part of the history of how mankind has behaved. If we want to change the way things are done today, perhaps the inspiration to your daughter is to create things from her heart, love and beauty. For her sensitivity has shown to her this is what she most feels. Re Art and expressing it as it is, too many people try to hide their emotions to the point that it emotionally affects who they are and restricts what they can do. If your other daughter wants to show emotion through art, it is important that she is allowed to do so. The responses that it raises in others is the response that is meant. If we had nothing to respond to in this world we would never understand who we are. Each emotional response we have is a way to connect with ourself and understand our own character a little deeper. Her work may be the result of helping someone connect to a hurt that is deeply buried. Something that no one else could reach. This could be an important moment in someones life. We are all unique and wonderful beings experiencing the world at this time and all it has to offer. Each experience is part of the tapestry of life to enrich our journey and give us greater knowledge of how to manage our lives and emotions better in the future. The more aware we are of our sensitivity the easier we can manage it with tools that we find so that it does not affect us so greatly the next time. Emotional Freedom Technique EFT is a great technique which can help to overcome emotional responses that cause hurt and pain. Love Sarah

Mary Wednesday Thu, Jan 19th 2017 @ 7:11am

Hello Sarah. Sorry for not responding yesterday: family emergency! Yes, I have benefited enormously from EFT and also from TAT. I do use this with my younger daughter. She thinks it is very silly and tends to be rather annoyed when it actually works!

Julian Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 3:54pm

Know what you mean about avoiding some of the harder stuff, ever since I had quite a bad episode of depression I've been avoiding the dystopian and dark Sci-Fi I used to like so much.

Nancy Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 4:20pm

I too avoid listening to much news and take it in small bits. I want to fix the problems and this stresses me.
In regards to helping your daughter deal with her sensitivity, I agree that helps the teacher as well. My daughter is so much like me. She is now out of the house on her own. But calls whenever she is "freaking" out. My husband and I then talk her through the anxiety or depression. I feel we have given her a lot of tools for her toolbox that I wish I had when I was her age. Now, when I am having an anxiety or depressive episode I think "What would I tell my daughter?". That clarifies what I should do for myself.

Another Sally Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 5:17pm

I echo many of the views above. My husband has a daily newspaper and I turn the pages just to see what is in it but do not dwell on the depressing stuff. I read the letters page and see who has a birthday and check out the weather. On occasion there are disturbing photos on the cover and I will avoid looking at them. I watch very little television and generally stick to easygoing things. I am easily moved by films especially, as someone above said, by something that affects me as a parent/grandparent. I went to see Finding Nemo a week or so after my mothers's funeral and wept copiously when Nemo's mother died.
It is sensible to avoid exposing oneself to sad/depressing stuff. Another Sally

Adrian Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 5:58pm

Great post and blog people – if you haven't done so, read Elaine Aron's book The Highly Sensitive Person referred to above – I felt really validated as an HSP and it also gave me some strategies (a bit like in this blog) for survival. Adrian :-) PS I can remember reading a book my grandmother gave to me at age 7 which was a children's book but which frightened me and going back and confronting her and telling her the book was too old for me – so, well done me back then, I started to defend myself early on!

Mary Wednesday Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 8:07pm

Yes. How can anyone, for instance, think Black Beauty is suitable for children? Even Bambi haunts me! Much more than, say, The Shining, which I really couldn't take seriously. Horror, I can deal with; pathos wrings me to horrified pain.

A View from the Far Side Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 8:40pm

Thank God there's a name for the way I feel and have always felt. A very illuminating post.

Tychi's Mum Wed, Jan 18th 2017 @ 10:27pm

Hi Mary,

Thank you for another really interesting and thought provoking blog.
I have never heard of the concepts of Highly Sensitive/Extra Sensitive People. It definitely rings bells with me though. I avoid newspapers and TV news as I can't cope with the images and I feel overwhelmed by all of the issues that our world currently faces. I feel helpless but really want to help...
I simply can't do horror films...the fear and scary images just stay with me. I hadn't realised this before but over the years I seem to have learnt my limitations and taken action accordingly.
I'm definitely in favour of a doctor's note to let me off any viewing/reading that I find too difficult...

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