Does Someone Close to You Have a Gambling Problem?

By Mitchell Brown
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

One of the most disturbing aspects of problem gambling is that people can develop a serious gambling problem without anyone else knowing, including those closest to them. For others their gambling will not be a secret, although many will strongly deny that there is a problem despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In situations where problem gambling has remained hidden there are some observable signs that when considered together may point to someone having a gambling problem. It should be noted however that in some situations this will not be the case, or these signs may be pointing to a different problem.

There are two indicators that may suggest gambling problem.
The first indicator is a disturbing sense that something is not quite right. While people with a gambling problem can develop complex strategies to cover their tracks the people close to them will sometimes have a strong sense that something is wrong, but be unable to put their finger on exactly what it is. Sometimes it can be an unusually defensive attitude when what the person says is questioned, or they offer explanations that just don’t add up. People who develop a gambling problem can become extremely dishonest and secretive, invent complex stories to hide their gambling, and offer seemingly plausible reasons to explain anomalies such as unexplained absences from home or the workplace. They can also become aggressive and deflect blame on to others for their ‘unreasonable’ questioning. This behaviour is generally noticeably contrary to the person’s normal honest behaviour.

The second indicator is financial incongruities. While people with a gambling problem will have isolated wins, and sometimes big wins, the nature of problem gambling precludes people from coming out ahead financially in the long term. There will therefore be an ongoing need for funds to support their gambling. Some people will gamble on several occasions each week, some irregularly and some only on pay day.

The most telling sign of problem gambling is missing funds. A family which should be reasonably able to live within its means will often be struggling to pay bills. Sometimes bills which were thought to have been paid remain unpaid, loan repayments are found to be in arrears for no good reason and bank accounts are empty. Hidden debts to friends or financial institutions may also be present with correspondence directed to a post office box which no-one else is aware of. Another common feature is people asking friends and relations for loans for very worthwhile reasons, never for gambling or paying gambling debts.

People with gambling problems will also sometimes steal money to gamble with or pay gambling debts. This will usually involve embezzling from the workplace with a belief that the money will be returned once they have a big win. This is also behaviour that is contrary to their normal honest behaviour and often comes as a terrible shock to the people close to them.

Government funded free counselling, and financial counselling services for people with a gambling problem and their families are available throughout Australia. Registered psychologists who specialise in this area can be accessed through the APS ‘Find a Psychologist’ service.

The Little Girl Who Grew Up

Once upon a time there was a little girl. She was quiet and shy with most people, but when she thought no-one was watching she would sing and dance and play in the mud. As she grew up she started to think, she watched people, she learnt about people, and she started to become less shy and less quiet. She noticed that other people were also nervous, were also unsure. She noticed that many were more scared than she was. On her first day in a new primary school, she would grab the hand of the crying girl, or help find the crayon of the angry boy. She watched. Not many knew.
As she grew up she noticed that the world is not so simple. Teenagers can be cutting, they can be superficial and egotistical. What are you wearing? Who are you seeing? Where do you live? These all become defining points of who we are. The little girl was growing up and watching the world from behind the strong glass window. Every now and then she would come out, smile and share. But when the ugliness became too much, she jumped back again, unsure of what she could take. The stage was a great escape – the stage was where she became alive. It was safe, it was dramatic, it was fun, she was being judged for her performance, not for her identity. She was being judged for the external not the internal. Many were shocked. The little girl had become a star. But she had never forgotten what she loves most – people, watching, understanding, keeping them safe.
As a teenager, boys never seemed interesting to her. Conversations were boring, simplistic, fake. Others loved it! Others loved the attention, the frivolous nature of it. But this girl – she got bored. Then one day she met someone who would not give up. Who pushed. At the start she was feisty, harsh and rude in an attempt to scare away what she couldn’t handle. Afraid. But he was unrelenting. He opened up. She fell hard – unexpectingly. It broke her, not in the way that a vase falls to the floor and smashes, but in the way that a vice slowly, so slowly starts to crush its victim. It’s subtle and easily goes unnoticed. This girl, now a woman – once so good at speaking up, at holding her ground, was struggling. Through the pain she re-connected with who she really was, with her core self – the strength, the clarity and determination that she once prided herself on. It took years, and a lot of courage but she did what she knew was necessary for the survival of her core self – of her true self- of her heart. She became stronger, taller, clearer. The fog had lifted and she could feel herself singing, dancing and playing in the mud once again.
After a period of hibernation, boys started to approach again – but this time the woman was different. She started to see past the lines, past the façade, past the physical, and started to see heart. Many had little, to which she gently apologized and walked away. Others were one dimensional – much like in high school, to which she became bored. So many different types, most with different pasts, different experiences, some more damaged than others. This woman who feared she was too damaged – stopped focusing on her own pains, and was opening up to see the pain of other men. She would remember primary school and the little boy screaming, the little girl crying – seems funny now. Are we all just children in adult bodies? Do we merely hide our child-like selves now? Have we learnt not to cry? Or learnt not to scream? Does that make it any less painful?

Stronger now, clearer now…. This woman looks at life differently. Life is beautiful when you are real, when you are honest and when you have the courage to face that. Life is wonderful when you enjoy being who you are. It becomes liberating and freeing – so that you can dance, you can sing and you can be who you were born to be – the good and the bad! The bad often making the good become highlighted! She has learnt that everyone suffers but if we are compassionate and kind, if we are gentle and patient, we can really see the happiness in others. Life is good and through everything this little girl is now very happy indeed.

Nobody’s perfect, so why are you trying to be?

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

Yesterday morning I headed off to present a workshop, complete with a PowerPoint presentation which I had spent a long time perfecting. On arrival, it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to use my laptop to present. This problem was easily fixed, I simply transferred my presentation onto the organiser’s laptop and was ready to go. There was only one glitch – the font I’d used for all my headings wasn’t there on this new laptop. On pretty much every slide, the text looked the wrong size and just …. not right!

Now immediately, your reaction might be, “who cares about a font?!” … Perhaps you wouldn’t be bothered at all by this experience. In which case, this may not be the article for you! However I can guarantee there will be others reading who can immediately resonate with my niggling feeling of annoyance that my great presentation didn’t look quite right anymore! If this is you, it’s likely that more than once in your life, someone has called you a perfectionist.

Perfectionistic thinking is surprisingly common, and there are some great aspects to being a perfectionist! Seeking to live life according to high standards can lead to achieving great results academically or at work, and being someone that others know they can rely on to do their best (and really good PowerPoint presentations too!). However, left unchecked, perfectionistic tendencies can lead to a very strong internal sense of pressure to meet standards that in fact may be unrealistic. There can be a very real sense of fear about what will happen if not everything is ticked off the list, or completed to a worthy enough standard. It’s no surprise then that perfectionistic thinking is a risk factor for the development of conditions such as burnout, anxiety and postnatal depression.

Here are some features of perfectionistic thinking and some ideas about how to address them.

“It really annoys me when things aren’t done properly”

I believe this thinking style is strongly related to temperament and personality style, as well as often being shaped by one’s upbringing. Some parents promote a strong work ethic and push their kids to do their very best. Some children also show a preference from an early age for doing things carefully and thoroughly. Perhaps you have always had an eye for detail or enjoyed the feeling of completing a task. All of the above can be entirely healthy and lead to being a thorough and hard working person. However, there are times when circumstances change and you simply can’t complete something to the same standard that you prefer; for example, if you experience a significant illness or injury. Some perfectionists insist on dragging themselves around, compelled to get through the ‘to do’ list, when in fact their body is crying out for some rest and recuperation. Another common example is amongst new parents, especially mothers. It can be very confronting to feel that “I have done nothing all day except look after the baby”. However, looking after a baby is not only one of life’s most vital jobs, it is also one of the most complex and ever changing jobs as well! But for the perfectionist, it is hard to let go of the other tasks that didn’t get completed. Developing some flexibility here is crucial. Yes, you will always get a kick from ticking things off your list! But recognise that during some times in your life, you will have less energy for getting things done, and will need to let some things go. The other option is to do a less thorough job, and learn to feel okay about that! For example, a quick 5 minute tidy up of your desk or clean of the bathroom when there simply isn’t scope for anything more.

“It’s not okay to fail or make mistakes”

if you resonate with this statement, I encourage you to ask yourself ‘why?’ … Why isn’t it okay to make a mistake? If you do fail or mess something up, what is the worst that could happen?
I find that this kind of thinking is usually fueled by one of two great fears – one is that we are somehow inadequate or flawed; and the other is that people will be disappointed with us. Again, these beliefs often develop as we are growing up. Whether intended or not, children sometimes pick up the message from their parents that they need to perform to a certain standard in order to be loved and accepted. And so when mistakes are made, they get the sense that they are inadequate or a disappointment to their parents.
Neither of these is a pleasant feeling! So we can feel compelled to try and avoid feeling this way by always being amazing and brilliant and competent in the hope that we will somehow be ‘enough’. Of course, the reality is that sooner or later, someone will be disappointed with you. No matter how amazing you are.
Everyone makes mistakes. Of course you are flawed. That is part of being a human being. Learning to embrace both of these realities enables you to strive for high standards while also living with the awareness that you will not meet them every time. When you fail to live up to what you or someone else was hoping for, you will feel bad for a while. But in time, you will be okay.

“I don’t want to burden other people with my problems”

I have heard this, literally word for word, from so many people that I have talked with and worked with over the years. I believe it comes from a place of genuinely good intent – the desire to be a good friend or supportive family member who is not overwhelming or a ‘drag’ to be around. However, what this thinking style fails to take into account is that sharing our struggles is a fundamental part of any human relationship that has moved beyond the superficial.
When working with people who are struggling with the thought of being a burden, I often ask them – do you know anyone seemingly ‘perfect’, who never shares anything that they are finding hard in their life? Usually the answer is no; occasionally it’s yes and I ask what it is like to be around that person.
I wonder how you would find such a person? … intimidating? Irritating? Distant? In any case, it would be hard to get close to this person or feel totally relaxed and at ease with them. I think someone whose life seems perfect unsettles us because we know it is unnatural! If in fact you are holding back your worries or problems from everyone in your life, you are lacking the best relationships of all – the ones where people know you, your weaknesses as well as your strengths, and are still willing to hang around! For more thoughts on this, Brene Brown has a fantastic talk on TED.com about the importance of vulnerability in building truly meaningful and satisfying relationships.

While these tips may give you some ideas for challenging your thoughts, for some, being a perfectionist has been a life long habit and can be hard to shift. Talking with a psychologist can help to identify expectations and beliefs that can be shifted to become more realistic, flexible and more compassionate to both yourself and others.

In time I have learnt to identify the ‘niggling’ feeling that pops up when my PowerPoint font doesn’t look right – and countless other day to day examples of when life is messy, when I fall short of the mark, or when well made plans just don’t work out. Now I try to smile and have a little laugh at my ‘perfectionist’ self, let it go and get on with making the best of it. Not perfect. But my best – which in the end, is all we can ask of anyone.

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.