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Author Archive: "Philippa Perry"

How I’ve Stayed Sane

I want to share my own story of how continual learning has helped me stay sane.

I left school at 15 and it took me a few years to come around to and enjoy learning. In my early 20s I had a repetitive administrative job. I knew that I felt understimulated. Boredom drove me to a college-of-further-education recruitment evening. I signed up for psychology and English A-levels and made new friends at these classes. I remember going round to a friend's house for the first time and being excited by her enthusiasm. She said, "I'm not bored anymore; I find myself thinking about the different motivations of characters in Twelfth Night." This is what learning does. It gives us more things to think about so we have less time to get bored, depressed, and understimulated. It builds on our existing knowledge and expands it. It leads us to make more connections by linking together more neural pathways. It also connects our brains to other people's brains.

The next year I studied art and history. These became subjects that I have continued to build on with ...

How Stories Can Support Us

I was struck by a short film I saw on YouTube called "Skateistan." It starts with a desolate landscape in Kabul of grey rubble and dust where you can see young children, with makeshift bags made from grey rags, looking for anything that might be of value amongst piles of junk. At a dirty roadside stall, a man hacks meat with his machete and two more children ride over the rubble-strewn road on skateboards. They skate past the hacked-off head of a goat lying in the gutter. There is a sound track, and one boy talks to us. "People keep looking at our shoes and boards in a weird way. They think that we are attached to the boards through some sort of magnetic field." The camera shows a different view: women in pale-blue, mud-splattered burkas, walking in front of soldiers and guns; traffic dodging in and out of heavily armoured tanks. By the side of the road is an older man with a young boy on his knee. The skateboarders whiz past. The man appears to be looking straight at the camera, but the boy's ...

Do You Need More Rules or More Spontaneity?

Some of us need to get more structure into our lives in order to preserve our sanity and the sanity of people close to us, while others need to find more spontaneity and let go of some rules for the same reason. It depends upon where you are along the spectrum to start with. Here are two case studies to illustrate what I mean.


Zara was chaotic in her relationships. She was unable to feel secure with a partner, and her romantic relationships all ended at an early stage. She began to wonder how she was contributing to her continuing single status. At the suggestion of a friend, she began to keep a journal, and from the observations she made she began to recognise a pattern in all of her romantic relationships. It went like this:

  1. She would choose someone who was good-looking and/or charismatic.
  2. She would go to bed with him at the earliest opportunity.
  3. After sex, she would feel that she was "in love" with him.
  4. She would behave in a "needy" way and ring him up too often.
  5. When he would eventually contact her, she'd tell him


Am I Doing This to Impress You or Because It Feels Right?

People can be loosely put into two groups: those who externally reference and those who internally reference. Externally referenced people are more concerned with the impression they make on other people: What do I look like? What does this look like? Internally referenced people are more concerned with what something feels like: Do I like the feel of this or that better? Externally referenced people want to get it right for others (so they will be accepted, envied, or impressive to others) while internally referenced people want to get it right for themselves (so they will feel comfortable with themselves) and are not as conscious about how other people perceive them.

I'm not saying that one way of self-referencing is always superior to the other. But I do want to stress the desirability of increasing our awareness of how we reference ourselves so that we can work out how we place ourselves on the internal-external scale. If we veer too far toward external referencing, we lose a sense of ourselves and become off-balance. If, on the other hand, we swing too far toward internal referencing, we may ...

What Is Love?

Is there such a thing as love at first sight? I'm afraid there is, and I don't necessarily regard it as a good thing. It can feel like something so charged that it stops you in your tracks. What is that something? What is the exact nature of cupid's arrow?

My theory is that it is a historical ghost. An echo of inchoate feeling. The sort of feeling that bypasses words and pumps hormones about instead. I believe it to be triggered by an old association that causes us to make automatic assumptions about the person before us based on echoes of memories of someone we've had an early bonding experience with in our past. It could be as fleeting as the shape of a nose or the smell of a scalp. Or it could be a behavioural pattern we can only pick up unconsciously. For example, on the British TV show Dragons' Den, one of the millionaire investors, Hilary Devey, fell for and married someone she later discovered was a bigamist, just as her mother later discovered that her husband, Hilary's father, was a bigamist. Our neural ...

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