Thursday, March 16, 2006

Can you recognize when someone is troubled?

"When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not."
- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

As a kindergarten-age child, I lived in a two-family household with another boy my age as a companion in mischief. His younger sister, when seeing what we were up to sometimes, would claim "When I was a boy, I never did things like that." To our retort that she had never been a boy, she replied with great determination that she had indeed been a boy.

A few years earlier, living as an only child with my parents (with never another child to play with), I was known to keep an imaginary cow behind our diningroom door. I played with that cow every day, to the consternation of my father who thought his young son was likely demented.

Does this mean that the word of a child can't be trusted because imagination is as real to a child as reality? In a court of law this may be the case.

However, in most life situations, a child may be using an imaginary situation to convey what he or she is unable to convey by other means. In other words, the message has a meaning, but the meaning may not be the same as the words would suggest.

Adults don't do that, do they? Most stage plays and some TV programs do exactly that. They have a message that is couched within a story line--at the end you may forget the story but remember the hidden message without knowing it.

Anger is another way in which we express our anxiety over something, though our anger is seldom on the topic of our anxiety. Or we might simply be tired. We flare up at something insignificant, but we don't convey the message behind our anger, which is that we are very tired or considerably worried about something.

When the behaviour of someone is uncharacteristic of that person, look for the meaning behind the message. The meaning may hint that something as severe as suicide or nervous breakdown could be in that person's future unlesss he or she gets some relief. A troubled person always gives signs, but we need to pay attention to be able to recognize them.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help us identify unusually stressful times in the lives of those we love.
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