Paul Roebuck
Paul Roebuck


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Grief locks in anger in Prince Harry (& Podcast)

Prince Harry “coming out” about his mental health is no surprise and is widely welcomed by mental health practitioners as it helps with the stigma around talking therapy.

 Here is a boy who lost his mother at the age of 12 and has admitted

“shutting down my emotions for the last 20 years has had a serious effect personally and professionally”
— Prince Harry

 His opportunity to talk came by pure chance.

 “I didn’t want advice, can you just listen” was what he said to the person he first spoke to (A journalist!). 

 This is a clear indication of the power of talking therapy’ being listened to, being heard, perhaps for the first time.

 The article raises many questions including just what happens when you bottle up emotions?, how does pain turn to anger? how does talking therapy help?

 William and Harry most likely suffered extraordinary emotional pain when their mother died; loss of any parent is hugely impactful to any of us at any age, and as a child of Royalty, backed as a global spectacle it would have been unbelievably difficult, very painful.

 You can imagine him being told how to act and react; I doubt he was told to wear your heart on your sleeve and have a bloody good cry, or to express his emotionswherever, whenever you need to. 

 He was most probably told and followed the advice of elders to “keep a stiff upper lip". While in all that pain.

 Interestingly the receptors in the brain and the chemical processes for physical pain are identical as they are for emotional pain – the brain does not differentiate between these two types of pain, it initially floods the body with adrenaline (which in turn stimulates our freeze, fight, flight instinct), and as time passes we adopt a coping mechanism to effectively numb ourselves from, or avoid feeling that pain. 

 This emotion ultimately becomes suppressed and any resultant negative feelings unresolved.

 Harry’s coping strategy was entirely normal, in his own words he “refused to think about his mum, why would that help, it’s not going to bring her back”, so his coping mechanism was avoidance (of even thinking about the events) an entirely understandable flight or maybe its freeze depending on your view. 

However, bottling up and avoiding thinking about the event also locks in the associated emotion felt at the time of the event. The pain.

 Those emotions sit there waiting for their opportunity to be released. I’d speculate that in Harry’s case they came out periodically in an uncontrolled manner too, and would further suggest that the pain morphed into anger, and onward to rage should the environment present itself to allow him to be enraged.

It is commonplace for that unresolved pain to become expressed as anger. Let me try to illustrate how pain turns to anger or rage and how this “aged pain’. I will use the Harry story to illustrate but this is not intended a remote diagnosis, I am using his story to illustrate one of the useful theories I learned during my training.

 Imagine an experiment which involves you placing your hand on a bench and allowing someone to hit you repeatedly with a hammer. A condition of the experiment is that you are not allowed to express your pain. Under any circumstances. No expression whatsoever.

 On and on the blows to your hand continues and the pain increases exponentially. And you are not allowed to express that pain, no expression whatsoever. On and on. 

 What does that pain eventually turn to? That beating on the hand, no expression of pain allowed, keep it in ...... the pain turns to anger, and then inevitably on to rage. Gritted teeth, red-faced (and a hurting hand!)

 Unexpressed Pain becomes anger.

 In Harry's brain what he went through as emotional pain would have been reacted to as if it were the same as physical pain, (the repeated hammer blows, all those newspaper articles, all those TV commentators and all those thousands of times he will have been reminded of that pain). His coping mechanism kicked in, kept him going, "don't think about it"

 Study this picture from the funeral. Does his jawline suggest gritted teeth or just profound sadness? Or both? Or neither; Who knows. He looks (rightfully) angry to me.

 I would speculate that on occasions Harry’s emotions (the aged emotions from the trauma of his mother’s death), came out from time to time in his life; most probably as anger, and in his own words, whatever it was “had a serious effect personally and professionally”

 So that’s why the stiff upper lip doesn’t help, it can make matters worse. Time converts pain to anger so effectively it compounds the problem and the unexpressed emotion finds another way to come out, sometimes at the worst possible moment(s).

 "Anybody can be angry, that's easy. But to be angry with the right person at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way is not within everybody's power and is not easy" Aristotle

 So how and why does talking therapy help? 

The Psychotherapists role is to help you to explore how life events of the past may be influencing behaviour and feelings in the present. And to provide a safe, confidential and supportive environment where the client can express their feelings and more deeply explore their resultant beliefs following key life events.

 One of our roles is to try and help the client identify the clients wounds, and in many cases the Primal Wound (Firman, 1997). Identifying the most impactful wounds obviously needs very careful exploration; I would imagine his therapist went back way beyond the events of Dianna's death, the divorce up of his mum and dad must have caused pain; and who knows if that's the Primal Wound or whether it came from even earlier in his life.

 Through this process any unresolved emotions from these significant life events can be expressed and with this comes the all-important healing process.

 So, in answer to my question "Why doesn’t a stiff upper lip help, Harry?"

 Talking helps, talking about it helps everyone, even more, thank you, Harry. Publicising your experience; may it inspire others to make their personal journey to a healthier, happier and more fulfilling future.

 Prince William “keeping a stiff upper lip can damage health”

Prince Harry: “I sought Counselling after 20 years of not thinking about the death of my mother, Diana, and two years of total chaos in my life”

#mentalhealth #wellbeing #princeharry #anger #pain #headstogether