DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR: How do you hide YOUR secret vices? 

By Max Pemberton For The Daily Mail

Published: 21:59 EST, 1 January 2016 | Updated: 21:59 EST, 1 January 2016


How was your New Year’s Eve? Did you encounter any former heavy drinkers tuttutting about the alcoholic excess all around them? Or ex-smokers being rude about the gaggles of people puffing away outside the pub?

In fact, such displays of somewhat hypocritical behaviour can be found time and again in everyday life — and could be said to reflect the phrase ‘the lady doth protest too much’.

Other examples might include a person who dislikes a particular work colleague being excessively nice towards them. Or a woman who is secretly attracted to a colleague and longs to have an affair making overly romantic gestures to her husband.

Then there are the people who make a big deal of being heterosexual and are openly homophobic, yet often turn out to be having same-sex attractions themselves. And so on.

Deception: Many of us are hypocritical about our various failings

Deception: Many of us are hypocritical about our various failings

So what’s it all about?

In the case of ex-smokers loudly proclaiming how disgusting they think smoking is, the reality is that they are so eaten up by their deep-seated longing to smoke — which they’re desperately trying to bury and ignore — that they take the opposite position.

This is actually the result of a very common mechanism that the mind employs to deal with conflicts between what it wants and what it thinks is acceptable in society.

Psychologists call this tactic ‘reaction formation’.

It basically means that someone turns unconscious wishes or desires that the mind knows are unacceptable into their opposites. In this way, people end up doing the exact opposite of what their mind really wants.

Of course, as a strategy it’s not very effective in the long term, and it’s very difficult to keep this up. So sometimes the mask slips and people simply act on their impulses.

This was the case with a children’s entertainer called Jason Packer from Portsmouth. He is a former ‘Justice and Anti Corruption Party’ candidate, and also a passionate campaigner against child abuse.

Yet behind closed doors, the 45-year-old was viewing extreme, depraved child pornography.

He was convicted and jailed for 12 months last week for possessing the images, which included children aged between five and ten, and also images of women being raped and murdered.

Recorder Frank Abbott said the fact that Packer was a staunch campaigner against child abuse, and yet viewed such disturbing images of abuse himself, was a ‘worrying paradox’.

Indeed, it seems bizarre that someone who has made such an apparent show of being so anti-child abuse was, all along, viewing images of depraved paedophilia. Yet from a psychological perspective, this apparent contradiction is not as surprising as it sounds.

In the case of paedophiles, this idea of ‘reaction formation’ means they are aware that their attraction to children is unacceptable, and so they mask this by becoming vocal anti-paedophile campaigners.

W hat this doesn’t mean, of course, is that campaigning against child abuse means you are a child abuser yourself. But it does show us that the mind is very clever and devious, and that what we do and say — our conscious thoughts and behaviour — is sometimes dramatically at odds with our subconscious.

It is a way of reducing the anxiety experienced by unacceptable or otherwise harmful impulses. It’s a process first described more than a century ago by Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. It is now a fully accepted part of psychology and very useful when understanding people’s behaviour.

One aspect of how the mind works that many people are aware of is ‘denial’. This is when something is simply too much for someone to handle, and so their mind deals with it by blocking it out entirely.

We often flippantly use the phrase ‘Oh, they’re in denial’, but when you’ve witnessed the real thing — as I have — you realise how serious and deep-rooted it is.

I’ve seen it several times while working with cancer patients; people given the diagnosis who simply refused to accept it and stopped attending appointments. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort from the clinicians involved in their care to get them to accept the diagnosis and encourage them back into treatment.

I see it too when someone’s parent is diagnosed with dementia and they struggle to accept it, preferring to find other excuses for their parent’s forgetfulness or wandering.

Many of the defence mechanisms the mind employs are effective for a short period but unhelpful in the long term — although some, such as humour or forgiveness, are termed ‘mature defence mechanisms’ and are considered helpful.

Much of psychotherapy is aimed at helping the mind exchange unhelpful defence mechanisms for mature, more helpful ones.

While much of what Freud wrote has been discredited, with his idea of mental defence mechanisms, he has given us a lasting legacy of how to understand otherwise baffling aspects of human behaviour.

Don't give to beggars to make yourself look good

The dilemma is all too familiar, particularly at this time of year when we are supposed to be spreading goodwill to all men.

Walking along the street, your arms weighed down with shopping, someone approaches you and asks for any spare change. Or you’ve been stopped by someone pleading for a few pounds so they can get a place in a shelter that night.

What do you do? Shouldn’t you hand over a pound or two? What harm could it do?

Well, as someone who has worked with homeless people, my advice is simple: do not give to beggars. The chances are they’ll use the money for drugs or alcohol, and this will make it harder for doctors like me to get these people into rehab.

Such money provides a perverse incentive for people to remain on the street. It simply perpetuates the problem.

Yet an advertising campaign by the charity Thames Reach, asking us not to give to beggars, has been met with outrage on social media. People have said it’s heartless and cruel. A few conspiracy theorists have even argued that it must be an attempt by the Government to undermine charitable sentiments.

Many of my patients have been helped by Thames Reach, which provides fantastic support to more than 8,500 homeless people every year, and I agree entirely with their warning.

The fact is, people are vastly ignorant about the realities of homelessness and begging. In London, for example, there are no night shelters that require homeless people to pay money.

There are many excellent services desperately working to help these people, and they are constantly thwarted by people giving to beggars because it provides a steady income stream to fund addictions.

The sad reality is that many people you see on the street refuse to come into a shelter because they’d rather sit on the street and get money for drugs.

If you really want to help homeless people, donate to a charity. The reason people don’t do this and give to beggars instead is because when you donate to a charity, you don’t get that same instant lift as you do when you give to someone standing in front of you.

But that’s the whole problem. Giving to beggars isn’t really about solving any problems — it’s about making the person doing the giving feel momentarily better about themselves. By all means buy them a tea — but donate to a homeless charity as well.

Medics hate hospital parking too

It is estimated that the public are paying a staggering £200 million a year in hospital car parking fees. It’s scandalous. Some hospitals are raking in more than £3 million a year.

But if you’re annoyed by having to pay to park your car next time you visit a hospital, rest assured you’re not alone. The staff are pretty annoyed, too, because often they are expected to cough up as well.

At several hospitals where I’ve worked, staff have to pay for the privilege of parking their car. They either have to buy a permit if they drive in regularly, or pay on a day rate, exactly like the patients. A doctor friend of mine had his car clamped in the hospital where he works because he hadn’t paid and displayed.

Of course, some people will argue that if parking was free, then it might be open to abuse — and people would park there when they weren’t actually visiting the hospital.

Yet clearly there are ways round this. Supermarkets manage it after all.

Hospitals haven’t introduced car parking fees as a deterrent. They’ve done it purely and simply because it’s a way of generating cash. But surely it can’t be right or fair to charge people to use a facility that they’ve already paid for out of their taxes.

In fact, I’m embarrassed as I walk past patients and others queuing to pay for the privilege of parking in a hospital that their taxes are funding. The whole thing is disgraceful.

The staff are powerless to do anything about it, though, because many of the car parks are now run by private companies.

All they can really do is shake their head in disbelief — and then pay up just like everyone else.

No one expected the staff of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS to beat Justin Bieber to Christmas No 1, but victory was theirs with their charity single, A Bridge Over You.

The Canadian singer received much praise after urging fans to buy the NHS single instead of his. People claimed it was evidence that he had some sort of affinity with our NHS.

I’m not so sure. A few years ago, when Bieber was performing at London’s O2 Arena, he was taken ill with breathing problems and after the concert was taken to hospital.

The next day, several of my patients thought he’d been taken to their local hospital, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and there was a palpable sense of pride. I learned later that in fact he’d gone to a clinic in Harley Street. I didn’t have the heart to tell my patients.

Over the years I worked in A&E departments and saw about a dozen British pop stars. And despite their stellar status, each one happily waited in line and refused to be treated differently. Now that’s rock ’n’ roll.



By Staff Writer 01/01/2016 21:59:00