On TED.com: psychologist advocates ‘emotional hygiene’


In this insightful and inspiring talk, Manhattan-based psychologist Guy Winch movingly speaks of his extremely close emotional bond with his twin brother and how their separation, and his brother’s recent struggle with cancer (which proved successful), caused him deep psychological suffering.

Deep wounds

What has he learned – and what can we all learn – from this?

– That humanity has always favoured physical health and healthcare over psychological health and healthcare.
– That as we grow from childhood to adulthood we learn next to nothing about what he calls ‘emotional hygiene’; that is, caring for our own state of mind.
– That we incur psychological injury far more frequently than physical injury. Just think how often in a lifetime we experience ‘failure’, rejection, loneliness and even depression.
– That these are deep wounds, and that most people suffer the extreme pain alone and in silence.
– That others seem to care less for us when we are suffering psychologically than when we are physically ill.

Winch cites studies indicating that chronic loneliness, for example, increases the risk of death by 14% (similar to the effect of smoking).


Particularly damaging is what Winch refers to as rumination: continually thinking back on a negative experience and the resulting psychological injury, and thus making it worse. This is a habit-forming behaviour that can cause clinical depression, alcoholism, eating disorders and even cardio-vascular disease.

Winch, in his book Emotional First Aid [www.guywinch.com/] advocates self-treatment of psychological wounds: any damage to our self-esteem through thinking – and believing – that we are somehow incapable or helpless, which are common illusions.

Our mind, if untrained, tends to behave as what he calls “a moody friend”. At its best, it generates positive self-ideas, yet we insult ourselves when we make mistakes, and we keep rubbing our own noses in our ‘failures’, which makes us vulnerable to stress and anxiety.

Compassionate self-care

Instead, says Winch, we should prioritise our own psychological health, especially following a negative experience such as rejection or ‘failure’. At such times, we need to revive our self-esteem by treating ourselves caring and compassionately, just as a genuine good friend would. We should actively combat negative thinking with distraction and positive thinking. We should protect and reinforce our self-esteem in order to build emotional resilience. We should thus overcome ‘failure’ and create our own happiness and fulfilment.

Winch uses the context of his twin-brother relationship to highlight the importance of emotional self-care. A love relationship with a life partner is similarly emotionally charged. The attachment bond is so crucial that when it is threatened and becomes an unsafe attachment we suffer serious psychological injury. Many people in their relationships suffer from (what they interpret as) ‘failure’ and rejection, as well as loneliness and depression. In this context too, psychological first aid is essential.

Guiding individual clients and couples towards loving and compassionate self-care is a huge part of my Head and Heart Work as an integrative therapist in Utrecht.