How people are responding to COVID-19
One thing I’ve noticed this week as I’ve made the shift to phone consult is that there is one recommendation of how to respond globally to this crisis and yet each and every person is responding to this differently in their own individual way.
One client asked me ‘How are you coping with all the paranoia?’
I replied, ‘It’s not paranoia if the threat is real.’
I have the privilege of being able to speak to people personally about their deepest thoughts on a daily basis, and so in these conversations I have been able to pattern and notice one thing that runs throughout them all.
People respond to Coronavirus in the way they respond to their own fear. Their own relationship with fear within themselves becomes the way in which they respond externally to the ongoing threat globally and locally.
Let me give you some examples.
Client A heard about COVID-19 in January. They didn’t think about the threat because after all we have had many outbreaks in recent years. As the threat escalated they got more informed and began to make a plan for when this kicks off. Bought a little extra in their shopping each time they went, and made sure that there was antibacterial products in the workplace.
Client B is not thinking about it. They are fearful when they do and so they are not able to plan because they keep pushing the thought away. Each time they hear about it on the news their sense of powerlessness increases. They hold on to the expectation that this is just going to go away if they don’t think about it.
Client C is panicking. They have bought their families bodyweight in toilet roll and are wondering how they are going to get through quarantine with half the space in their home now that they are storing it all. They are finding that even with all the supplies (I wonder how toilet roll tastes?) They are still panicking and they have no idea what to do with all the adrenaline that is running through their body.
So you can see these are very different responses and for clarity these are composites of clients not clients themselves. Client A is asking ‘what can be done about this?’, and then responding practically to the threat. Client B is not looking at it at all and therefore it becomes more scary and Client C is looking at is but is distorting the situation and finding no amount of preparation soothes their fear.
Now I know some of you have seen this before but the Chinese symbol for ‘Crisis’ is a composite of two other symbols - ‘Danger’ and ‘Opportunity’. What if in this pandemic one of the many opportunities is for us to learn how to communicate with our fear?
One way we can do this is to become mindful in our day. I’ve shared the following on my fb page as it is a clear flowchart of what we can think that will be helpful. I know that fear is in the body and so once you have decided whether to take action or to postpone worry, you may need some help with coming into the present moment.
These are just three quick ways to soothe yourself but always begin with checking whether you need to take action. This includes isolating yourself or contacting the doctor via phone should you need to. Remember, it’s not paranoia if the threat is real. During these difficult times it is important to both feel and be safe.
Here are just a few quick and simple ways to do that:
Feel free to share these with your friends or share in the comments section how you have been soothing yourself in these difficult times. Stay safe everyone.
One year ago, in 2019 I did dry January. Now I was not a problem drinker at that point but the truth is I have been in the past. In my teens I routinely and addictively used various substances, pills and powders, and when the shame of that became unbearable I switched to the socially acceptable substance of alcohol. At the time this felt like an improvement because I was mainstream – I was in ‘normal’ society now. I believed that now I could be accepted.
This wasn’t a random thought. During my teens my father had told me to ‘go away and come back when you don’t take drugs anymore.’ I’ll say more about that later, in another blog.
Throughout my first marriage I continued using alcohol in less than helpful ways and more than once – mostly before and occasionally during my ‘trial run’ (thanks to my friend Vicky for that phrase!) marriage – being drunk put me in situations and places where I was incredibly vulnerable and less than pleasant things happened as a result. At best I would have apologies to make for things I could barely recall doing, at worst I would have bruises or sensations on my body that did not make sense. It is hard to write and acknowledge this, from my vantage point of ‘healed’ and ‘recovered’. It is hard to look at the person I was making the mistakes I did and hold them up for viewing and judgement. I am glad to be alive.
I didn’t realise that I had just switched addictions, and hadn’t really looked at what was underneath the drive for addiction.
In my late 20’s the marriage to my first husband ended, and with it ended the level of drinking I had been doing. At the end of my marriage I also smoked cannabis for a while – a revisit of an old habit that felt more like revisiting an old and familiar friend I hadn’t seen for a while, only to find out said friend is still messed up, passed out on the sofa and won’t go home.
I stopped again and continued drinking in my new reduced way. Weekends, celebrations and a glass of wine with dinner now and then.
The thing that didn’t change was the sensation of ‘one is too many and ten is not enough.’
At any given time when out and drinking I would crave more and the next. I would go to unusual lengths to be able to continue drinking rather than call it a night and go home. Once the claws of alcohol were in me, I just wanted more. I do not believe I can moderate. All I could see at that point is that I was so much better than I had been in the past. I recognise now that this was a stepping stone on the way forward through a healing journey. I trained and became a counsellor working with addiction and recovery. I still believed in moderation back then and was at least using alcohol without making myself vulnerable any more. I believed I had it made. I had resolved my difficult relationship with alcohol to a take-it-or-leave-it status quo. I didn’t bother to question if I can take it or leave it then why on earth would I choose to take it? It is a toxin, it causes significant problems in the body and the mind. It literally kills. I will explore this question in part two of this blog.
So back to dry January 2019. With the encouragement of my friend Vicky, I embarked on doing a dry month. I was glad to do it because I had been overdoing things for the month before. I had my rules of ‘only drinking at the weekend’ which had gone out of the window temporarily for December 2018. I recognised I emotionally, mentally and physically needed a break from socially poisoning my body.
I read quit-lit. ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace has become a go to for me to recommend to others. It de-bunks the myth that we need alcohol to have a good time. I still recommend it now.
Somewhere in the middle of dry January I recognised that I was learning, or unlearning, things that were more than to do with alcohol.
Also in the back of my mind was both a conversation with my daughter and a conference I had attended a couple of years before – ‘Generation Next’ in Adelaide. During this conference they had highlighted that many of our young teens are opting not to drink alcohol, but subsequently find themselves ostracised as a result. The conversation with my eldest daughter had confirmed this. ‘I don’t think I want to drink alcohol Mum,’ she had said one day whilst we cleaned up together in the kitchen, ‘I don’t like the sound of it.’
I want to be a parent that supports this decision.
I needed to be the example that demonstrates abstinence is a real option, and still has a connection to social networks and friendships. I wanted to show her that abstinence does not equal isolation. Dry January easily became dry February. At the beginning of the year I told people ‘I want to see what it feels like to have a year without alcohol’. At the end of the year I told people ‘I think this is me now.’ It turns out I really, really like being sober. Here is what I have learned in my year without alcohol.
1. I was only drinking at weekends but I was in a relationship with it all week. During that first month I realised my default was to be thinking about Friday when I would ‘reward’ myself with alcohol for successfully abstaining all week. From Tuesday onwards, I would plan which wines I would have. I might even chill them down in the fridge, in preparation and anticipation of my weekend ritual. I would occasionally feel the need to have a mid-week gin. I would reach out and then congratulate myself on not succumbing. Even this success is still measured against drinking (or not).
In NLP we have a phrase ‘don’t think about a pink elephant.’ You’re probably thinking about a pink elephant right? We say this to demonstrate that the unconscious mind cannot process negatives and that even negating a thing puts emphasis on it.
In this way I spent the whole week in a relationship with alcohol, even when not drinking it.
2. I am a better parent without even a little bit of alcohol In those first months I realised a motivating factor was my teenagers. As I said above, I want to be the parent that can model alcohol as an optional extra – not a necessity – when it comes to social interaction. What I didn’t realise until I caught myself in the act is that I was also a better parent to my younger children, who rarely saw me drinking alcohol.
We were at Junior Netball on a Saturday morning. One of the other parents had made an offer that she would collect my daughter and bring her to netball. I had already refused this offer (as no alcohol on Friday means no need to avoid being awake on Saturday morning). If this wasn’t enough evidence of being a ‘more present’ parent there was what happened next. One of the other parents gave me a flyer for a kids disco that night. Now, put this next to the ‘Mummy has a drink at weekends’ me and I would have been shoving that flyer in my pocket so we could ‘have a think about it.’ (read forget about it and apologise later ). Without thinking any of this I immediately showed it to both of my younger children. ‘Hey girls,’ I said, ‘Do you want to go to a disco later?’
Now I know in the world of potential muck ups and terrible experiences that some addicts children go through, missing a disco or two barely registers. I am also grateful that much of my addictive tendencies and terrors were pre even my older two children, so I am not in any way attempting to minimise the trauma of being an addicts child.
I am recognising that even this simple act – taking the children to a disco at all let alone without any eye rolling or martyrdom is a shift in a much better direction for me as a parent. In the (promised and much referenced) later blog I will talk about how I didn’t really have much of a model for this. I’m pretty much winging it all the time and in the past have used what I learn professionally over anything I experienced personally as a go-to for how to parent. So for me, this was a huge win.
3. People are more tolerant than you think about abstinence. One of the regular questions I find online are ‘What do I say when people ask why I don’t drink?’
I am a member of a fine wine and food group called Chicken and Chablis. This lovely group of women meet monthly to enjoy food and matched wine and it is both a social and learning experience as we discuss and learn from each other about the different wines. For the last year I have continued to attend this group and any other social event without drinking.
Now don’t get me wrong, there has been some debate on this and I rather sensibly opted not to take the role of president this year (thanks to a dear friend stepping forward into the role at the 11th hour). That said, the group has responded with open curiosity and acceptance of my decision to abstain.
It could have so easily gone another way, and I know for some others it does. I think people saw that this was a deeply personal decision for me, and not a judgement on their choices, that drove my sobriety. I think three things helped me. a) I chose to focus on the positive responses and not the rare negative ones. b) I recognise people are usually very generous spirited if you allow and give them opportunity to be. Finally c) People will follow your own response to a thing. I was confident in my decision, people saw this and subsequently mostly didn’t question it.
On the rare occasion I have been asked to justify my decision I have a couple of responses.
‘Isn’t it funny how alcohol is the only addiction we have to explain not having’,
‘No-one is more surprised than me, it turns out I really like being sober!’
That seems to do it.
4. Alcohol was my way of dealing with past trauma. Actually, substances were strictly speaking my way of dealing with trauma. Alcohol was simply the latest in a long line of substances. In Felitti’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study the correlation between trauma in childhood and addiction is evidenced strongly. For me, beginning my foray into substance use wasn’t even a stretch. I grew up in a time and an area where high unemployment and crime rates also meant high substance abuse and trauma. It was not unusual where and when I grew up to see wives or husbands or children with bruises.
My brothers who had been raised in the care of the local authority came back into the home when I was three and a half. My grandmother who was the reason I had not been taken into care, because she had stepped in to help raise me, died a year later. Amongst all of that in the privacy of my own home I had a violent father and a mother who had just checked out – spending days and sometimes weeks in bed. My strong suspicion is that both of them have undiagnosed Personality Disorders. Food became their means of controlling us and locks were put on the food cupboards. We were frequently hungry. In the backdrop of all this I was being sexually abused. I can reflect now that all parties were traumatised and as the third child to two parents who were aged 22 when I was born they were poorly equipped to deal with their own trauma of violent backgrounds and abandonment. This did not make it easier for me as a child.
I recognise the amount of interpersonal work I have done to overcome this has paid me back in droves, I feel vulnerable but not a victim. I am a work in progress and still have work to do, but I know I am equal to it.
I also recognise that the loving start and secure attachment I had to my Grandma gave me something that my brothers never had – it gave me a place to return to. I had a secure base and a sense of what this feels like. I spent many years with a part of myself knowing that something was off, that being treated the way we were was not okay. My brothers did not have this and although theirs is their own story to tell but I will say that I have managed to overcome many things that they still struggle with.
5. The traumatised parts were ‘preserved’ by the alcohol
In many areas of Psychotherapy we have the concept of ‘Parts’. The basic premise is that our self – or our Psyche – gets fragmented as a means of managing trauma. In the most extreme examples of this an individual might end up with Multiple Personality Disorder, more recently named Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
Even without fully blown DID where fragments of the self have their own identity and function, we all have parts that serve a purpose and a function. This is usual.
In extreme trauma the part will attempt to seperate itself from the rest of the individual’s psyche and wrap itself up in amnesia – believing that the rest of the personality is not strong enough to deal with whatever it was that happened. When life settles down these parts begin to make themselves known.
I find clients at any age can come to me with these parts as they have started to emerge. Sometimes in the form of dreams or flashbacks, other times a straightforward remembering, and frequently (although not always) triggered by a life event or something they saw on tv in a film or on the news.
I have done a lot of work on myself over the years. In my training as counsellor and later as I became a Psychotherapist this was not a process of looking at people as if they are in a petri dish – seperate and to be observed in clinical conditions. It was and still is the process of being in it. Of walking my talk and having the experience of going through things and taking things to my Clinical Supervisor and going back to therapy if needed. Thankfully as time has gone on the confrontation of this process gets less and less.
When I stopped drinking in January 2019 without the usual distraction of being pregnant (the only other times I have cut back or down on alcohol). I found that there were parts that had been ‘kept at bay’ with my weekly tipple. One drink at the weekend when I had opportunity to pause and reflect was the perfect time to keep my 5yo part who was still grieving for my Grandma, or my 7yo part who was deeply saddened by the things that are happening to her, at arms length with ‘just the one.’
These parts remained untouched, not so much preserved by alcohol but by lack of interaction. They still grieved, they were stuck, and with alcohol to distract me they would have forever remained so.
This year I have been on a search and recovery for the parts that got left behind in trauma, and I am fully aware that without being completely sober I would never have been able to do this. It has been confronting and difficult at times – at one point being triggered in the middle of a training with professionals and peers – but so, so worth it.
6. I really like being sober This isn’t just a glib phrase. I really like being sober. I sleep better, I have less work to do to manage my emotions, I feel more authentic, more myself than I have done for many years. Part of this has been revisiting a geeky, nerdy version of myself that I abandoned age around 12. She’s awkward, and clunky and doesn’t always make the conversation flow. I love her, because with her came back my permission to love nerdy things and the zero shame of being me. I missed her and she disappeared when the ‘lets get high’ me appeared. I’m finding space for both of them and giving the latter a new role.
So I’m writing this at the end of January and this may be being read by fellow newly sober enthusiasts. If this is you, feel free to comment either on here or on FB or insta with your own observations! What has abstaining from alcohol added to your life?
I always know when I have a people pleaser in my office by one main trait: they’ll tell me they have so much to do for everyone in their life, and they feel immense pressure from others. However, when we begin to investigate this pressure we’ll discover that it doesn’t exist at all. We realise the pressure is self-made.
Do you feel pressure from people around you and tend to feel burdened by all that you have to do? If so, then this is a sign that you have people pleaser tendencies.
There are other signs too, such as:
People pleasing is the desire to meet the needs of another, often at our own expense. It is thought to derive from feelings of inadequacy and or a need to belong and attach.
I took the following definition directly from Websters Dictionary: (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/people%20pleaser)
variants: or less commonly people-pleaser \ ˈpē- pəl- ˈplē- zə
Definition of people pleaser : someone or something that pleases or wants to please people
often : a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires
How does people pleasing look?
If you are a people pleaser, an interaction may look something like this: You find yourself on the phone or in the company of another and they ask you if you’d like to do x, y and z.
X, y and z are very boring with no real reward for you and are not interesting or meaningful to you. Nonetheless you find yourself saying, oh yes sure that would be great, what a wonderful thing to do, and then later (usually as soon as you’ve hung up the phone or walked away from the person) you realise immediately that you have no desire to do either x, or y or z.
You see a people pleaser cannot connect with themselves while they are physically connected to another. In order to understand their own feelings about whether they do or do not want to do something they have to be physically away from the person asking. Let’s investigate why this is so.
How does People Pleasing form?
People pleasing occurred developmentally because of messages we received as we grew, particularly at around 12-18 months of age when we were still highly dependant on our parent or caregiver. At that time many of us learned that in order to create a relationship with the other we had to disconnect from ourselves.
I’ll use an example to explain how this could have happened:
Let’s say a child fell over and hurt themselves. The child felt pain physically and also emotionally, i.e., they may have felt unsafe. Upon seeing the child cry, the parent came in and said something like, “Oh come on, you’re fine”.
As the child experienced their personal feelings of fear, hurt etc, another message came from the caregiver. That message was different to the one coming from his or her own body. Because the child depends on the relationship with the parent for survival, the child disconnects from the self (and the self’s feelings) to appease the other.
Over time the child loses the connection to his or her own inner messages as they look to the parent for how they feel. As they become an adult they bring this trait with them. According to Eric Berne, creator of the Transactional Analysis theory, people pleasing is one of 5 main drivers that result from our developmental years that we continue to play out in our adult lives.
Beware of Projection
A further complication of people pleasing is that we are often projecting onto the other what we think they need. (read more about projection here https://positivefutureself.blog/2019/07/21/the-art-of-knowing-nothing/).
This means that what we think they want may not actually be true. For example, we may tell our partner that we are heading out for dinner with a friend. They may say okay, and we project that they don’t want us to go and we begin to feel pressure to come home early, change the plans, or appease the partner in some way.
There are a myriad of reasons for why the partner may have said the word okay. Perhaps they were thinking about what they were doing for dinner. Perhaps they’re missing their own dear friend and thinking about calling them for a catch up too. Perhaps they’re thinking, “Oh yay, a nice night home to do……”. There is only one way to know what they are wanting from us, and the only way to find out is to ask.
When we people please, we project onto the other what we think they want. In doing so we disconnect from ourselves in a desperate attempt to meet the needs of the other, when those might not even be their needs.
How can we learn to stop?
Letting go of people pleaser tendencies is probably easier than you think. This is because, as discussed above, a people pleaser must physically disconnect from the other before they can connect with themselves. Which means that as soon as they do connect with themselves, the real answer is crystal clear.
Here are two simple steps to releasing people pleasing.
1. ASK to avoid projection
If no one has directly asked you for something (as in the example above where you find yourself wanting to come home early or not going to an event because you think the other person doesn’t want you to) STOP immediately and ASK
Asking is as simple “Hey, what would you like from me?”. In other words, get crystal clear about what they want you to do rather than relying on what you think they want you to do.
2. Say, I’LL GET BACK TO YOU
When someone directly asks you to do something ALWAYS make your answer, “I’ll get back to you”.
For example, a biz associate calls you and says, “Hey, can you take on this huge new project, we’ll pay you xxx and blah blah blah”. You say, “Let me get back to you on that”. You let them know when you will get back to them, by tomorrow, or next week, or in 5 minutes. You go away to reflect on the proposal and to your internal feelings about it. You go back to the person with what you want at the time you said you would.
You must do this every time someone asks you for something. A simpler version might look like this: You’re in the kitchen and someone asks, would you mind peeling the potatoes? You say, “hold on one sec I just need to run to the toilet”. You leave the room, ask yourself if you want to do that, then come back and say, “I actually need to finish baking the cake so it’d be helpful if you could do that” or “sure, I’d love to jump on those taters” or “I can, but I need to make the coleslaw first”.
If you make “I’ll get back to you” your absolute 100% default state all of the time then you’ll be home free. Remember, it could take a solid year or more of practice before you retrain yourself to automatically check in with yourself first. Once you feel confident you’ve retrained to check with you first, you can drop the method.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many times how I handle being a therapist and if I find it hard not to take my work home.
The truth is, I don’t take my clients problems home. There are two main reasons for this. Both of which are beautiful lessons we can learn to make our lives lighter. The first is that it’s not really about them, and the second is that the problem is temporary.
If it hurts, it’s not about them
If something my clients says causes strong emotions or impacts me in some way, I know and trust that it’s coming from me. Often we mistake our emotions as being caused by the other person. We blame and point fingers, when the reality is your emotions can never come from someone else.
Your emotions are always about you, not them. The other person is simply the trigger for something that already exists inside of you. They are a gift, showing us where there is still work to be done.
When a client triggers a strong emotional reaction I look inside to see what part of me is in need of healing. Often this requires me to seek my own guidance or therapy, usually in the form of clinical supervision, which is the professional requirement for therapist mentorship to debrief on client load.
When we keep the focus on our own healing we don’t get so swept away and bogged down by the pain of another. We keep our boundaries firm and from that place we are actually more effective at offering guidance and support. This is similar to the airplane theory: you must place the oxygen on your own face before you can effectively assist others.
The problem is temporary
Almost every client that sits across from me holds tight to the delusion that their problems are solid. Yet I always know something they do not: their problem is temporary. This keeps me positive and afloat as I constantly reflect on the truth: that one day, they will look back on this very time and be grateful.
Though they can’t see it while they’re stuck in the darkness, they will one day find themselves standing somewhere, feeling so happy with what they are currently doing. They’ll look back and reflect over the tough time and realise that the difficulty was a stepping stone that led them right to where they are.
They didn’t just pass through the troubled time, they didn’t just make it, rather the hardship was a direct contributing factor to where they are now. They are stronger because of it, and more equipped. The problem was actually a solid building block that laid down the foundation they stand so stable upon.
When the above work together magic happens. You see, the key to healing is that we take a lesson from the difficulty instead of sweeping it under the rug, pretending it doesn’t exist, drowning it out or blaming someone else for it. This is taking responsibility (knowing it’s always about me).
When we take responsibility for every one of our temporary problems (because they are always temporary) we learn the lessons that lead to massive growth and transforms hardship into building blocks instead of a demolition crew.
Understanding this process is exactly why I don’t take home what a client tell’s me. I don’t get depressed by my clients depression, because I am seeing clearly that there is a point in the future where my client will be thriving and grateful. I keep that image in my mind and heart as we work together, holding that faith and positivity as a beacon of light to guide us both.
How to do it
Problems can seem permanent, especially when they last years, yet it is important to remember that everything eventually passes. Even though it may be hard to look to the future when we feel stuck, the trick is to get curious about that inevitable future point.
What is happening now is only one chapter in our life story. Like all good stories there is a part where we are lost, afraid and struggling. Then we learn the lesson and return home a better version of ourselves because of what we learned and overcame. Then we find a happy ending. The point in the future has all of the blessings.
Asking questions about this point in time can be extremely uplifting and supportive. We ask, what will it be like then? What will I have learned? This is called reframing, taking a negative view of the world, ourselves or life and offering an alternate positive view.
You can access a future view by asking the following questions:
How will I be better for having had this problem?
What is in this situation for me?
What lessons are here?
What could the future hold because of this?
What skills will I have gained once I am on the other side of this situation?
To reframe our victimhood (it’s about them) it helps to consider a difficult person or situation as the bringer of a gift. When we consider a difficulty this way it takes us out of blame and into taking responsibility for our selves (it’s about me). This brings us healing and happiness.
I like to tell my clients to play the hand they have been dealt, instead of complaining about it. I remind them that life is like a school, and every single experience is part of the curriculum. Whether or not they are paying attention in class is up to them.
Right now you can ask yourself, what are you not paying attention to, the learning of which will set you free?
You can also remind yourself as often as you can; No one else is doing anything to you and your emotions are your responsibility.
This is how I stay enthusiastic, awake and thriving as a therapist. I don’t take on my clients problems because I don’t see them as problems, I see them as gorgeous building blocks that are creating the best future version of you.
When reviewing the title of this article you may be asking yourself, why the heck would I want lose the plot? The answer is simple, the plot is overrated.
You see, in this context the plot is the “norm”. It is conformity, the right way to do things, and all that is expected of you within your assigned life roles. The plot is what your ego thinks you are and have to be. The plot is how we live according to expectations and ideas. It is thoughts like “I am a stay-at-home Mum so I have to do it this way”, or “I will wear these clothes to church because people know me like this”, and “I will help out at school because I am a good parent”.
Why the plot doesn’t work
The problem is that as human beings we are always learning, changing and growing. What worked for us ten years ago is not necessarily what will work for us now. As humans we are not objects. Rather we are a process, ever changing and evolving. We are verbs, not nouns.
The plot is stagnant. These ideas of who we should be and how we are supposed to act can keep us stuck and imprisoned. We can become miserable living out a life that no longer serves us. I often have clients show up in my office begging to be released from the life they created. They want something new, different or better but feel imprisoned by the expectations that come with their roles.
Lose the plot
I would like to suggest that the right thing to do is to lose the plot. This doesn’t have to be a big dramatic breakdown though sometimes that is exactly how it looks. A better way to do it is to prevent the stagnation by constantly re-evaluating where you are. This method avoids the extreme problems of depression, breakdowns and massive unwanted life upheavals.
A good way to shake up your plot is to start asking questions. These might sound like
Because we are a process that is ever-evolving we need to make a habit of constantly questioning ourselves and our beliefs. We need to ask, “Who am I now?’, because who we are is always changing. We are temporary, meaning each moment is a new moment and each moment brings about a new us. When we question our plot on a consistent basis then we can allow the plot itself to evolve with us.
One of the reasons we get locked into the plot is that we may believe that others have expectations of us that we need to fulfil and we may now want to disappoint the people in our lives. The reality is that the people around us will accept whoever we become as long as we accept it first. The key here is that you have to accept the change fully first.
Preventing the breakdown
When we take part in this kind of questioning openly and willingly, we prevent the subconscious mind (the deeper eternal being within each of us) from stepping in and immobilising us instead. This is usually what has happened when someone has a breakdown: they have outgrown the role they were playing but haven’t allowed themselves to evolve or adapt. We need to learn to flow with the ever evolving nature of our humanity in order to prevent those big breakdowns.
So how about you?
Are you currently feeling locked into a role that no longer serves you? Have you outgrown the outdated versions of yourself and haven’t allowed the new you to flow? If so get curious and start asking questions. We’re here to guide you on your ever flowing journey so if you need a hand, get in touch now.
This article continues on from our last: “Law of Attraction: not just for the good stuff” so if you haven’t read that one already please go back and read it.
In this piece we take a deeper look at the Law Of Attraction by focusing on what we hold in our unconscious mind. This is the past of our experience that we don’t have much control over unless we learn to heal. This may be the stuff that you can’t actively hear in the voice of your thoughts, such as a deep belief around how you will always be poor, unlovable etc.
Anything in our unconscious mind attracts into our lives, whether it be positive or negative. As brilliant and influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
What is in the unconscious mind usually includes unresolved pain and trauma and this is tricky as we will often do anything to avoid looking into our dark places. If you haven’t already it might be a good time to brush up on our article on pain (https://positivefutureself.blog/2019/09/29/bound-to-pain-and-why-thats-a-good-thing/) which offers the helpful outlook that our wounds are where the light gets in.
This is especially true when we consider how our pain affects our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and our world, thereby attracting more negative and painful experiences into our lives. By resolving our pain and trauma we can remove the minting and unhelpful beliefs that the trauma had given us.
Let’s use an example to explore how this works:
Julia (a totally made up person) experienced a neglectful single mother. The neglect was so extreme that Julia came to believe that she was not a person of any worth. She also believed that she was inherently unlovable and that women were untrustworthy. Julia, like most people in the world, had no idea that she believed these things. As a child she coped by becoming highly independent and capable and had a good relationship with her older brother.
All through Julias teen and early adulthood she struggled with relationships. In high school she was ostracised by the girls around her and thus made friends with a quiet boy from her class. Later, as Julia entered the workforce she struggled with her first big position under a female boss. As each incident occurred Julia took the lack of friendship and connection with the women around her as further confirmation of her existing belief that she was unlovable and that women were untrustworthy.
What was really happening is that Julia’s beliefs were causing her to be aloof, disinterested, fearful and anxious around women. She unconsciously assumed that they would not care about her. She overcompensated using independence and high-achieving methods thus further pushing away and kind of support of caring that could have helped develop relationships.
In Julia’s late twenties, after a number of years of unexplained anxiety and depression (coupled with loneliness) she sought therapy. Through some intensive work Julia was able to see the beliefs that stood in the way of closeness with women. Through learning to trust that her beliefs were outdated, unhelpful and untrue, she began to develop the kind of love and friendships that she had long desired.
Julia’s unconscious beliefs were attracting into her life the very thing she most wanted to go away: neglect from women. This is how it is with all of us. We are constantly attracting into our lives what we think and believe.
Victimhood vs responsibility.
When we are victims we ask “why does this keep happening to me?”. We can’t see or don’t want to see that we are attracting these experienced into our lives. When we are in victimhood there is no possibility of healing the past traumas that keep us limited.
When we take responsibility we can ask, what do I want to be different and how can I get what I want? We open ourselves up to doing anything to heal and resolve what is holding us back. We open ourselves up to attracting more good in our lives. Julia took responsibility when she went to therapy. She knew she wanted life to be different and she took action to make it happen.
Talking full responsibility for our lives means we acknowledge that we attract all of it- the good and the bad. If negative experiences occur we ask, how did I bring this in? And, what beliefs and thoughts need examining in order to attract a more desirable experience in the future?
Attracting the bad for resolution
Sometimes we may attract negative or painful experiences so that they can become a lesson, and opportunity to heal and a way to access our peace. This can be difficult to believe in when we experience great tragedy, like the death of a loved on or an abusive experience. However if we look at everything in our lives as an opportunity to heal we can find great peace.
Because we live in ego we forget this truth. As one of my great teachers Ken Wapnick says, “It is compelling and inviting to luxuriate in the ego.” The reality is that when it comes to the unconscious mind, we don’t get to pick and choose our experience. All we can do is heal our wounds as each circumstance arises so that we can go on to attract more peace, contentment and calm into our lives instead of more hurt, anger and suffering.
In this way, the only work there ever is to do is on the self, no one else is out there anyway.
Have you heard of the term Law of Attraction? It was made popular in the early 2000’s by the film (and book) The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. In addition, manifestation gained widespread hype through the 70’s and 80’s through the likes of Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) and Esther and Jerry Hicks (Law of Attraction, the Vortex). Even before this recent craze, ideas that include manifestation and law of attraction concepts have been around for centuries.
The Law of attraction is known as a pseudoscience, meaning that there is no current scientific proof its effectiveness. Whether it does or does not “work” we will leave for others to fight over. With this article I would simply like to offer you a basic understanding of what the Law of Attraction is so that you can see for yourself. It is my belief that we can reap great benefits from understanding the fundamental nature of manifestation and, most importantly, how we are always manifesting whether we are conscious of it or not.
Since the Secret’s publication, manifestation has become well-known but also widely misunderstood. The most common misconception is that we can use it as some kind of magical power to get the good things we want: like bringing large sums of money into your life, or finding a brand new shiny house or car.
While bringing in a million dollars overnight may or may not work for you, I’d like to offer a far more important understanding of the Law of Attraction that can bring you peace and contentment no matter how much money you have. Let’s being by understanding what the Law of Attraction is and how manifestation works.
What is the Law of Attraction?
The simplest definition is that the Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. The Law of Attraction is considered a fundamental law of the universe that cannot be altered and is not dependent on your age, sex, religion or social status. Like all laws, it simply is.
The Law of Attraction takes whatever is in our thoughts and materialises them into reality. This is based upon the law that all thoughts become reality eventually. Both humans and thoughts are made up of energy and when it comes to energy like always attracts like. The results of positive thoughts are always positive consequences. The same holds true for negative thoughts, always leading to bad outcomes.
The Law of Attraction dictates that whatever can be imagined and held in the mind’s eye is achievable. The real power is in believing that what you desire for your life is already true. This is manifestation: we can consciously create something by believing that what we want for our life is already how it is. If you want to be 60kg, then you must believe that you already are, by feeling the joy and positive emotions that are associated with this outcome.
As spectacular as this sounds it only takes one look around the state of our planet to notice that something is amiss here. If we could all create the exact life we want, then why is there so much misery, poverty, violence and disease?
The answer is simple. The world is full of suffering because whether we know it or not, during every second of our existence, we are manifesting. Every moment of our lives we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out. The real problem is that during most of this process we do not know we are doing it and this means we are often attracting negative outcomes.
How often have you driven to the grocery store and as you are pulling into a parking spot you realise you had no idea how you got there? You were not paying attention to the drive. Rather you were up in your head thinking about the past or fantasising about the future.
How often could you actually recall what you were thinking about? If you could recall it, was it negative or positive? Were you believing that great things were possible for yourself and that all is well in your life? Or (far more likely) were you reliving an awful thing that happened to you last week or expecting the worst from an incident you perceive will arrive in the future? Were you thinking wonderful things about your body and health, or were you engaging in self-criticism and hatred?
You see, every second of every moment of every day you are bringing towards your life whatever you are thinking about. Often our thinking is fear/survival based and therefore focusses on the negative. We spend far more time concerned about how little money we do have, and far less thinking about how blessed we are and what is possible for our financial future.
Perhaps we obsess about the state of our romantic life and where our relationships are headed. We may fear the worst out of our innate desire to protect ourselves from hurt so we guard ourselves from being too open or loving. This negatively affects our relationships and pushes those we love, and those we meet, away. This is how like attracts like.
Perhaps you can give some new thoughts and new beliefs a try and see for yourself what happens. Who would you be if you believed you were blessed, wealthy, healthy and happy? Whatever you believe you will find the proof to support. So take a look around at your life and look for new evidence.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you”.
Who would we be without our wounds? What would life be like if all the pain and darkness you had even felt had been removed? These were the questions I was left pondering while recently reading a bookclub inspired novel The Binding, by Bridgett Collins.
The Binding takes place in an alternate reality where books are different to how we know them here. In their world books are for all those things that people feel destroyed by and cannot live with in their lives. They are filled with actual peoples memories, their secrets, grief, and pain. The books are hand crafted and once the bad memories have been carefully bound inside the book they are erased for good.
Our local bookclub meets to discuss the books we are ingesting. During our meetup for The Binding the discussion went deep as we explored what it would mean to have our deepest troubles, our abuses and the most painful events of our lives removed. Would we be happier? Would life be bliss? Or would we lose the very substance that makes us who we are?
I was adamant that our pain is our greatest treasure and should be kept. I believe the wounds I have inside of me are the very reason I have been able to experience healing, feel compassion, develop wisdom and grow strong. I know I am the woman I am today because of all of the suffering I have endured in my life. I cherish the alchemy of pain to growth.
As I drove home from bookclub that evening I recalled the beautiful quote by Rumi, “The wound is there the light enters you”. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic who has become one of the most famous poets of all time. He believed in the use of poetry, dance and music as a way to find union with the beloved, or with God.
The quote comes from a larger piece that I will share with you now:
“I said: what about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.
I said: What about my passion?
He said: Keep it burning.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
This longer version gives us understanding that the short quote cannot. You see, it would be easy to misunderstand that our pain alone can transform us. But this is not the whole picture. Transformation occurs only if we are willing to stay with it. This is a key distinction when you consider that every single one of us has experienced pain, but not all of us have grown from it.
The light enters us because we find a way to be brave enough to stay with our wounds.
What does it mean to stay? It means that we surround ourselves with the resources we need to fully feel the pain we carry within us. Every single careless word, physical assault, rejection, abuse or neglect is inside of us whether we choose to feel it or not.
Sometimes it is smart that we haven’t felt it yet. Perhaps because we weren’t resourced, like when we were children and didn’t have the capacity to handle what we were experiencing. In this case we closed off and simply chose to cope.
Or perhaps something we experienced was so overwhelming (the death of a partner or child, a sexual assault or violent abuse) and our heart knew it was too big for us to feel right now. So it closed, created walls and protected itself.
This ability to protect is a beautiful quality that we possess as humans. The consequence however is that we feel less of everything when there are walls around the heart. We can’t access the same kind of joy either, or love or compassion or release. In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Your joy can fill you only as deeply as your sorrow has carved you.”
At some point, we may want to open to the fullness of life again. Perhaps we are tired of numbness and of the half-life we are living. When we have the resources around us we can begin to open to the pain, let the light flood in and crack the walls around our heart.
Many of us may wish that we could give away our pain to a leather bound book as in The Binding. But if we remove our wounds we would be losing this place of transformation, alchemy and light. How can we stay with something if we won’t acknowledge that it is there? How can we let it mould us into the divine, holy, compassionate being that we all are deep inside?
I say leave the pain where it is. Be proud of your hurts. Find a way, however you can, to really feel what has troubled you the most. Find the wound, open it up and let the light enter you.
The subject of domestic violence (DV) is mostly left in silence, yet abuse thrives behind closed doors. Our continued silence is what allows abuse to develop and continue and it leads to many victims not knowing they are the subject of DV. The intention behind this article is to deepen our knowledge of DV and empower those inside or near an abusive relationship to leave.
For ease of this article we will refer to all forms of domestic violence, abuse and control as DV, though it is important to understand that DV is not about violence, it is about control. Physical violence is not always present, and once it does occur it has passed through many gates to get there. These gates tend to be around subtle forms of escalating control, such as deciding what the victim can or can’t wear, when they should come home, taking control of the finances and/or slowly isolating the victim from friends, family and even familiar places.
Also for ease we will refer to the victim as “she” and the perpetrator as “he” when necessary. Though DV can be found inside a same sex relationship or can take place from woman to man, the overwhelming majority of DV cases is from man to woman inside a long term committed relationship.
Many victims do not fully understand that they are being abused. This happens because DV is insidious (meaning that it creeps up slowly and unobtrusively) and because physical violence (the most obvious form of abuse) does not occur at the beginning and sometimes is not present at all.
More frequently DV is characterised by the perpetrator limiting the victims behaviour to suit his beliefs and expectations, which are often impossibly high of her. When she doesn’t or can’t meet those expectations he creates consequences. Thus she begins to feel like she is the one falling short or causing the tension.
He often acts poorly around the victims friends and family in a way that leads to conflict or embarrassment. Eventually alienation and distance result from his behaviour. He will usually insist that this is the family/friend’s fault, that they don’t understand or “get him”. In this way he will make himself the victim and she will feel like she needs to defend him. She will usually feel like she is put in the middle and is forced to defend her partner. Over a time a wedge is placed between the romantic relationship and the family until she feels she must choose him over everyone else she loves.
It is important to note that no human should ever be put in a position to choose between those she loves. Anyone who asks her to do so should raise a huge red flag as an DV perpetrator.
Signs that YOU are living inside a DV
The most glaring red flag is if you feel any kind of fear (at any time) in regards to your partner.
This may mean that you are scared to say what you think, to bring up certain topics, or to say no to sex because doing so may have negative consequences. No matter the reason, fear has no place in a healthy relationship.
Other signs of domestic control and abuse include
Blames you for the criticism or abuse
Tells you what to wear and how you should look
Tells you that you can’t live without him, would be nothing without him
Throws things or punches walls when angry
Yells at you and makes you feel small
Keeps cash and credit cards from you
Limits or controls your employment
Keeps close tabs on where you go and whom you go with
Makes you ask to see friends and family
Keeps tabs on your messages, emails and call history
Embarrasses you in front of others, makes you want to avoid people
Alienates you from friends and family
Tells you that your loved ones don’t understand him/her
Blames your friends and family for the aliention
Makes you feel you must choose between him/her and your friends/family
Makes you feel like you owe them sex
Gets angry when you say no to sex
Forces you to have sex
Keeps you from eating, sleeping, or getting medical care
Threatens to kill you or people you love
Abandons you in a place you don’t know
Attacks you with weapons
Locks you in or out of your house
Punches, pushes, kicks, bites, pulls hair
The Three Phases of Abuse
Although DV is often in the dark, its progression has been well studied by experts and is thus is predictable. DV doesn’t being with the obvious big event. Instead it escalates through 3 phases, which are cyclical.
The honeymoon (including remorse)
Tension Building: During this phase the abuser may become increasingly moody or begin to withdraw affection. They may engage in higher control, put-downs and criticisms. The victim may feel like they are “walking on eggshells” around the abuser. This phase can last for a few hours, months, or anything in between. The longer the phase drags on the more inevitable the blow-up will feel, even if the victim can’t be sure exactly when or how it will blow up.
Acute Explosion: The tension finally breaks with an abusive incident. This can take place in a variety of ways. If the DV relationship includes physical violence this is usually when the abuser lashes out at the victim through punching, hitting, throwing or even raping the victim. In a DV relationship where the abuse is primarily psychological the abuser may scream, yell, threaten violence or call the victim humiliating names (usually around the victim being worthless, nothing without them etc).
Honeymoon: This phase usually begins with remorse. The abuser is sorry, promising not to do this again. They may be extra affectionate, including buying gifts or engaging in helpful behaviours around the house to “make up” for the abuse. Many will promise to change, promise to stop abusing, or promise that it will never happen again. This phase can feel so lovely to the victim that they will often accept the abuser’s reasoning that it was their fault. They may try to adjust their own behaviour as the next tension building phase begins, believing themselves responsible for the prevention of the next “explosion”.
Not all abusive relationships have a honeymoon phase. Those that do usually see it slowly diminish over time as the cycle continues to go around and around. Generally, each explosive phase is worse than the one before it.
So, Why Doesn’t she just leave?
Lesley Morgan Steiner is a survivor of domestic violence and author of “Crazy Love” In an excellent TED talk about why domestic abuse victims don’t leave, she helps us to understand the complex answer to the frequently asked question, why doesn’t she leave?
She says, “Why did I stay? The answer is easy. I didn’t know he was abusing me. Even though he held loaded guns to my head, pushed me down stairs, threatened to kill our dog, pulled the key out of the car ignition as I drove down the highway, poured coffee grinds on my head as I dressed for a job interview, I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on earth who could help Connor face his demons.”
In this TED talk, Lesley is letting us know that DV is a complex situation that involves great care and love for the abuser. It is not simple to leave. In addition, there may be children that need to be taken care of and the concern of negatively affecting their life. The victim has been alienated from friends and family (and may believe in the alienation being the family/friend’s fault) so seeking support is difficult.
In addition, leaving the perpetrator may be extremely dangerous. As Lesley says later in the talk, “Over 70 percent of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship, after she’s gotten out, because then the abuser has nothing left to lose”. Even with the threat of danger, most victims who leave go on to live fulfilling lives and have healthy relationships.
There are some basic things you can do to prepare for leaving, even if you are not ready yet:
Tell someone you love about what is happening to you.
Hide a set of car keys.
Make a copy of financial information: bank accounts, password etc
Pack and then hide a bag with keys, extra clothes, important papers, money, and medicines. You could keep it at a trusted friend or family members house.
Have a plan for calling the police in an emergency. Know where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.
To ensure safety after you have left, it is a good idea to be in contact with your local support organisation, and to change any regular appointment times, sporting events or activities. You can also change your usual travel routes (to work, school etc), and have a friend or family member that you can frequently check in with.
How can you help someone you love?
Are you worried about someone you love? Here are signs that indicate a potential DV relationship:
They have gradually become quiet/withdrawn
They are reserved and distant
Have dropped out of activities they would usually enjoy
Cancel appointments or meetings with you at the last minute
Often late to work or other appointments
Exhibits excessive privacy concerning their personal life or the person with whom they’re in a relationship
Isolating themselves by cutting off contacts with friends and family members
Feel like they must choose between you and your partner
Checks in unnecessarily with the partner
Seems unnecessarily anxious to please partner
Have children who seem timid, frightened, or extremely well-behaved when the partner is around
If you find the above signs are true for your friend or family member, it might be time to ask them about it. Let them know you have no judgements about their situation and love and support them unconditionally. The absolute best thing to do is to keep a strong tie with the victim, even when the perpetrator is working toward isolation and alienation. This may mean not taking your friends withdrawn behaviour personally and not letting yourself be angry at the abuser (which can be difficult). Support your friend in whatever way they need and let them know you are there for them, and will always be there for them, even if you do not agree with the relationship. Make sure they know you will always stand by them, no matter what. Offer to be the person they come to should they ever need it.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND INFORMATION
Almost every town has a local support group for DV that will take in the victim and children of a DV relationship. For more information check out the White Ribbon Campaign https://www.whiteribbon.org.au where you can find your local support group.
Lesley Steiner’s incredible talk on why she doesn’t leave: https://www.ted.com/talks/leslie_morgan_steiner_why_domestic_violence_victims_don_t_leave?language=en
Amazing article by Huff Post that explains the cycle of brainwashing as studied by Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton but as it specifically pertains to domestic abuse: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/crystal-sanchez/8-steps-that-explain-why-_b_9143360.html
In relationships, conflict is a given. As much as we would like to pretend it isn’t so, there is no way around this truth. For many of us the unconscious question we are always asking ourselves is, “How do I avoid conflict?”. Yet poorly managed conflict (or even worse, avoided conflict) will rapidly disintegrate a relationship over time.
For a relationship to thrive there is a better question we need to ask, “How can I do conflict well?“ In this article I will share with you some of the ways I have learned to do conflict well.
Having a common goal
As we all know, prevention is better than cure. Having a common goal that both parties understand is one of the best ways to prevent huge difficult-to-resolve conflicts. This is because when we understand what we are striving for everything we do revolves around this agreement.
For example, I often send my clients away to work on their common goal by answering questions like these together:
Taking personal responsibility
It is absolutely essential for a healthy relationship that each party understands that the only thing they are responsible for is their own behaviour (the exception for this being domestic violence or abuse). Likewise the only thing we can contemplate, improve and change is ourselves. It is fruitless to spend your life complaining about and trying to change others.
A tactic for conflict that I love is from Jordan Petersons book, 12 Rules for Life, The Antidote to Chaos. He says that he and his wife manage conflict by moving away from one another for a period of twenty minutes to contemplate what they each individually could have done differently. Note that means you are contemplating only what YOU could have done different, not what your partner could have done. I challenge you to try this for just one week and see how your relationship flourishes and grows.
Hearing the music
Remember that terrifying and escalating music in the movie Jaws? How as it played the tension went up and up and up? A friend of mine uses the Jaws music as a great analogy: that you have to learn to hear it right at the start, before the tension gets too high. Often we are in a conflict and deep down we know exactly where it is going to end up, but we don’t stop to listen to the music. If we paid attention we would hear the music loud and clear and we would recognise that we are headed nowhere good.
With this analogy we train ourselves to hear the music and get out of the water. My friend recommends using a phrase or word that you say to one another before the argument escalates out of control. That word may signal that it is time to self-regulate or spend a little while apart before coming back to discuss.
The nervous system in conflict
Conflict results in immediate sympathetic nervous system (or SNS) stimulation, otherwise known as the fight or flight response or the stress response. In fact there are three parts to this: fight (we may argue, yell, get angry or threaten), flight (withdraw and run away) or freeze (shut down, become immobile).
When we feel threatened by a conflict we tend to default to one of these three choices. Likewise, we all have a history of how loved ones have responded to us in the past when they feel threatened. Both of these affect the way we engage (or try not to engage) in conflict now.
For example when I was a child I experienced aggression from the close men in my life. I learned to cope by withdrawing (which is a flight response). On the other hand my husband has a history of experiencing female withdrawal (flight). The close women in his life tended to retreat away from him which usually felt like rejection.
As conflict begins between us this creates a complex dynamic. If I perceive aggression from him (which happens easily due to my past experiences) I will respond by withdrawing. As he perceives withdrawal and rejection from me (which happens easily due to his past experiences) he responds by moving in closer, which I then perceive as more aggression. Can you see how an unhelpful cycle begins here?
By understanding one another’s history and SNS responses we can put into place a plan of action for when conflict arises. In our case, we created a plan where I ask my husband for ten minutes away from him so that I can regulate and soothe myself. I am in a flight or fight response and I need to calm myself down. My husband knows that he must agree and I know that I must keep my word to return in no more than ten minutes. This way he will feel safe too.
The opposite of your SNS or stress response is your PNS (or parasympathetic nervous system) which can also be called the relaxation response. You can stimulate this through deep breathing, consciously relaxing your muscles or using mindfulness of the body or breath. When I leave the room I am doing something really important: I am soothing my own nervous system. I use a series of learned tools to exit my flight/fight/freeze responses and come into relaxation.
Sometimes we need to physically release the energy of an SNS response. Ways to do this are by running, stomping, dancing, punching or throwing pillows, sighing loudly, singing, dancing, laying under a blanket or having a damn good cry. These actions work the best when you can completely avoid any stories that may be going through your head. Just move for the sake of moving, to release energy and feel your body.
It is important to note that during a stress response we can’t think critically. We are honed in on survival or protection. It is only once we are calmed down and relaxed that we can breathe deeply and think widely. Conflict is resolved much more peacefully when we are not supercharged and triggered. It is a great skill to learn to come back to the discussion once relaxed and with your common goal in mind.
Did you know that every single quality you see in another is what you already hold in your own consciousness? In other words what you experience with them are simply parts of yourself reflected back to you. The qualities that you most admire in people are ones that you already possess. Isn’t that beautiful?
Though you may not like it (or want to believe it) the same goes for those qualities that you dislike. If you can see this clearly then your relationships become an opportunity to see yourself honestly and to grow. As we learn to see everyone as a mirror we can gain a fundamental and life changing truth: if you want to improve your relationships you need to be the change you want to see.
My clients experience
As a therapist I frequently have clients come to me and talk about their partners. They may say something like, “He or she is just not listening to me. I don’t feel heard or respected. It’s like they don’t understand me and have no time to hear what I have to say”.
In response I would ask them, “What specifically do you see in their behaviour?”. And they might say, “Well they shout at me a lot, and they keep saying the same things over and over again”.
I can see clearly what they can not: that the other person also feels unheard, otherwise why would they be shouting and repeating themselves? The two are mirroring each others experience and they are seeing themselves (and their own actions and qualities) in each other.
So, how do we wake up to what we are seeing? How do we take responsibility for our own actions and qualities and realise that the other is simply showing us what we need to know about ourselves?
To help my clients do this I ask a series of powerful questions. First, “What would you like them to do to help you feel seen and heard?” Or, “What can they do to solve this situation?” They will usually tell me something like, “I would like them to stop what they are doing when I come home and listen to me. I would like them to just hear me without talking or fixing anything”.
People are almost always very clear about what they want the other to do. They are usually very clear about what the other persons faulty actions and qualities are. However, as you likely know, it is next to impossible and completely exhausting to devote yourself to changing another. Blame, frustration, nagging and disappointment are the usual ways we experience this external criticism. Yet when we can turn toward ourselves and see that what we are experiencing in the other is our own experience we have so much power to change.
With this is mind I ask the next powerful question, “How can YOU do that very thing in your relationship to break the cycle?”. In other words, using our example, I am asking them how they can stop what they are doing and just listen to their partner, without fixing anything. I am asking them how they can be the change they wish to see.
My personal experience
I see the mirroring experience most when I am relating to my children. I sometimes get frustrated and wonder why they aren’t they doing what I want them to do. Why aren’t they listening to what I say, why are they ignoring me and playing around? And then I realise, I am not doing what they want me to do. They want me to play with them and listen to what they have to say about their day.
I need to be the change I want to see. So I stop. I listen to them, give them a little of my time. I might say to them, “So you want to tell me about what you’ve done today and play some lego?”. Everything seems to stop there as they relax and feel loved. I am now free to express some of my needs too and they have become willing to listen and meet them. I ask, “Ok, how about once I have done that we’ll clean up the room and then go to dinner, ok?”. We’ve met each others needs and as such the world settles around us perfectly.
We are often so stuck in our own experience (they’re not listening to me) that we forget that this is their experience too (we’re not listening to them). We forget that they are just a mirror to us, and us to them.
Looking into the mirror
If you want to be the best you that you can be, start looking deeply into the mirror. Really look at what you see in others and know that it is YOU that you see. It is important to be crystal clear that the only reason someones qualities are annoying you is because they are also yours. As long as you do not acknowledge them as your own they will continue to frustrate you, while owning up to them provides you with the chance to grow.
If you find yourself being treated with disrespect, look within yourself and see who you treat with disrespect, whether it be a friend or yourself. If your partner criticises you, you will find that you are critical of yourself and most probably of others. If you never seem to fall in love, perhaps you don’t believe in love? If no one believes in your dreams perhaps you’re the one who doesn’t think you’ll ever amount to anything. It is only you who holds you down. It is only you who can lift you up.
And remember that this is true of others, that they are seeing themselves in you too. So it is likely that when you are head to head in battle with a lover, a child or a friend that they are having a mirrored experience. It is likely that you both feel distant, or unheard or unloved. Trying to get them to change the experience is fruitless. Instead look clearly into the mirror and ask, how can I be the change I wish to see?* It works, I promise.
*The caveat to this is abuse behaviour and relationship. The mirror in this instance is in relation to trust and self worth, and if you are in an abusive relationship please seek help from a licensed professional.
There are so many things in this world that we don’t know. As humans, instead of leaving the unknown as a blank page we tend to make things up. In other words, we are constantly making assumptions.
For example you are in a bar and a man looks over. You make eye contact and he smiles at you. You don’t know anything about this man or what his interest about you could be. You only know a couple of facts: two people looked eye to eye and the corners of his mouth turned up.
The rest, the parts you don’t know you fill in based on your perception of the world. You might assume, “that man is creepy”, or “ooh this one really likes me”, neither of which are founded in any kind of reality.
We walk around all day long filling in the parts of the world we don’t know with our projections. But what is a projection, and how does this process work?
As we talked about in our blog on Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, there are two billion bits of info coming at us per moment in chunks of data. Yet we only process seven (plus or minus two) at a time. This means that in order to take in our experience we are constantly in a process of deleting, distorting and generalising the real experience. (If you’d like to know more about this you can read our NLP Blog or even better: join us for our 4 day INLPTA training this July 26-29)
We usually take in the data that already fits in with our current beliefs about the world, and we are always filtering data dependant on our current state (ie if you are sad, you look for depressing data. If you are angry you look for infuriating data etc).
After we have filtered out everything that doesn’t fit we are left with our projection. This is how two different women may sit in the same bar while the same facts happen and have two different experiences. One sees the man smile and feels, “oh, creepy” while the other feels “ooh he likes me”.
Also, our projections are constantly creating our experiences and another word for this is manifestation. What we think about the world is then how we take action and create the next steps of our existence. We are always manifesting whether we are conscious of it or not. We can manifest great things in our lives by focusing consciously on what we want and by being grateful and positive, or we can manifest more pain and suffering by staying in our limited and negative perceptions and assumptions of the world.
The problem with assumption
It is normal to try to fill in the gaps. Making assumptions is a survival trait: just as we discussed in our article about negative emotions, these parts of ourselves exist because they got us right here where are through a long line of ancestors.
Throughout time, we used assumptions because we needed to know about the world and people so we could understand what is safe and what is not. The problem is not that we fill in the gaps with guesswork, the problem is in assuming that it is the truth.
Your assumptions about the world and about people are not real. While at times they could be accurate they are far more often inaccurate. Then we begin to base our words and actions on conclusions that are not real and often harmful. This is most prevalent within relationships where both parties are living separate realities but assuming they know and understand the other.
It is important to understand that the only way to find out the truth of something is to ask: everything else you believe is simply a projection. And when I say ask: I mean ask and then really listen. Clarify what you have heard. Be like a great investigator that will not stop until they have arrived at the truth. There are many tools you can learn to do this; modalities that teach communication or getting yourself in front of a therapist who will guide you to talk with your loved ones.
Asking for clarification may look something like this:
Person 1: “Two, it looks like you are angry at me but I am not sure, can you tell me what you are felling right now?”
Person 2: “Yes I am angry, but not at you. I had a challenging day at work and I have a huge headache and I was hoping for an hour to myself tonight”.
Without gaining clarification Person 2 may have spent hours in ruminating thoughts about how awful Person 1 was being to them and creating all kinds of stories in their head that aren’t actually true. Much damage can be done to relationships in this way.
It can be very scary to ask for clarification as most of us are terrified of conflict or of being hurt or rejected by the truth. This fear often keeps us tied to our assumptions. We therefore live in a world full of projection: seeing the world only from our own perspective.
A fun (but challenging) exercise
An exercise that I love to give my clients is to take a whole week and try not to make any meaning. Look only at the facts. As much as you can see a smile for simply what it is, a smile. See anger for what it is, simply anger. Look around you and take out all the stories, assumptions and projections. Just be with what is. If you get caught anywhere and if you’re feeling brave, ask for clarification. Try to remember that just because you think it, it doesn’t mean its true.
Good luck, I’d love to hear how it goes.
Humans are social animals. Because we live together in complex social structures and cultures there will always be conflict. While this is an unavoidable part of life, how we manage conflict differs greatly.
When we are unconsciously in conflict we tend to be fear based and take on one of three unhelpful main roles: that of victim, rescuer or persecutor. When we can bring consciousness or awareness to conflict we transform these roles into something greater.
Stephen Karpman created the drama triangle in 1968 as a way to understand how conflict arises between people. It shows us what roles we take in unconscious conflict, and how we can use presence to rise above the triangle to take more effective roles. (See fig 1.)
Before we go into what the roles of unconscious conflict are, it is important to understand that at any time we are in movement between the three roles.
The fear-based unconscious roles of the triangle
Being the victim means you feel helpless, like the event is happening to you and there isn’t much you can do about it. As the victim we might say things like “this always happens to me” or “why am I in this situation again?” or “nothing ever works out for me”. There is a feeling of having little control over ones experience. We may ask for help but we don’t really want to be helped. The emotions characterised here is sadness.
In the rescuer role we take responsibility for other peoples problems and make them our own. We’re nice and we think we can help but usually we are doing so in a way that makes the other helpless. As a rescuer it is easy to neglect our own lives and the problems inherent in them, looking out to others instead. We may see people going through a difficult time and think or say things like, “Oh look at that person, I will help them”. We run to the rescue and solve problems for others instead of empowering them to take care of themselves. The emotion that drives the rescuer is fear.
The persecutor is frustrated, self righteous a bit of a bully. In this role we may think or say things like “they are wrong and I am right”, or “they need to do what I say” or “that person will get what is coming to them”. We are dominant, overbearing and characterised by anger. The persecutor is also sometimes called the villian.
The starting concept
Although we are in constant movement between the roles there may be one that we enter with the greatest ease. This is called the starting concept. What this mean is that one of the three roles may come more naturally to you and is the one you are likely to enter into first.
The starting concept is often how we define our identity or how we see ourselves. Inevitably, no matter which one you identify with the most, we will all end up as victims in a fear based unconscious conflict. Without presence, we all arrive at a place of powerlessness and hopelessness.
How do we get out of the drama triangle?
When we shine the light on consciousness we are able to move out of these roles into a higher state of being. The victim become what is called the survivor or creator. The rescuer becomes the teacher or coach. And the persecutor becomes the challenger.
Let’s see how this works.
Victim to survivor (or creator)
With awareness we can identify that we are in the victim role. Instead of remaining helpless we can instead think like a problem solver. We ask ourselves some key questions that will result in action and solution solving.
-What do I want?
-What steps can I take to get what I want?
We can also take active steps to look into what is going right over what is going wrong: for example making a list of all the things in your life that are currently working, writing down five things you are grateful for, or asking yourself what did I achieve this week?
Rescuer to coach
Awareness placed on our rescuer tendencies can help us to have less fear. We can allow others to be responsible for themselves. Once we can see clearly into the rescuing behaviour we can take ourselves out by remembering the fable of teaching a man to fish. This usually requires letting go of the dependency you have created for others.
We do this by listening and supporting others to find solutions for themselves. We must resist the urge to tell them what to do or give the answers to them. Instead, we teach them how to catch fish for themselves. This requires the belief that each person is just as capable of figuring out life as you are, that you are no better or worse than them.
You might ask, “what would you like to see happen?” or “what do you think you can do to change things?” It is also important to set healthy boundaries with the other regarding how much time you are willing to spend with them on an issue so each party knows where the coaching begins and ends.
Persecutor to challenger
To take yourself out of the persecutor role you have to bring presence to your anger. What is it that you want to be done? You must be firm but fair in your approach, addressing consequences of actions and setting firm boundaries.
You might say “if you keep your side of the agreement I will keep mine”. You must be able to recognise that it is not your problem to solve, but rather you have the opportunity to hold someone accountable.
The coke machine
When you are ready to step out of the drama triangle just remember that others aren’t always coming with you. This can create some disruption as you are no longer predictable to the people around you.
Imagine a coke machine. We all know that when you place your money in and make your selection the drink comes out. This is predictable and how it is. If the coke does not come out what do you do? Usually we start the shake the machine, tap the button, or rock it side to side. We’ll do many things to try to get the machine to do the predictable thing.
At first, as your behaviour is no longer familiar, others may try to push your buttons and give you a shake too. It is important to be ready to respond with presence and love, no matter what. Eventually, as you let others be, resisting the urge to rescue them, get angry at them or feel victimised by their behaviour, they may just rise out of the triangle with you too.
Recently we’ve been talking about NLP and how we can control our emotions so they don’t control us, and how we can find peak states from which to perform in our lives. Yet I also want you to know that you can consciously choose to turn toward a negative emotion for the purpose of learning from it.
First let’s explore why all emotions are necessary, then look at some examples of how to do this, then we’ll end with how to know the right time to do so.
The long line of survivors
We come from a long line of survivors. Since before humans were even human, the genetic code you currently carry was in existence, being passed from one generation to the next.
Through each line of evolution, the beings before you managed to survive past puberty against all the odds stacked against them. They used their instincts, intuition and thinking minds to make it through war, famine, illness and natural dangers. Once they had made it, they were able to reproduce and pass on what they used to survive.
They passed on their DNA to create you and me. In that DNA is everything they relied on to survive. There is the instinct, the intuition and a whole rage of emotions that guided them on their journey. There was fear anger, rage and cunning to protect from danger and learn to fight or flee. There was lust and love to reproduce and create the clans that would keep themselves and the young safe. There was loneliness so they would know to stick together. Energy, creativity, enthusiasm and joy so that they would have a strong will to live to the fullest.
All emotions are necessary
All of these emotions are necessary to us now, even the ones we tend to call bad. If they weren’t, they would not have been passed on. However uncomfortable they are, we need fear and anger and shame. We need disappointment and frustration. We even need denial. We need them because they teach us the way through life.
Usually we turn away from the so-called negative emotions because they aren’t enjoyable to feel. We may also have ideas about how we are supposed to act and be: like strong, courageous or kind, so we hide whatever isn’t that because we want to feel accepted.
There is another way to look at our negative emotions that can be truly powerful and transformative. This new way is to understand that negative emotions are a path to learning.
Negative emotions are a path to learning
What this means is that when we feel so-called negative emotions arise, we can turn toward the feeling and ask, what is this feeling trying to tell me? What is the lesson in this experience?
A good example of this is if you are feeling lonely. We often try to squish feelings of loneliness because they aren’t sexy by current societal standards. This has led to our current epidemic of isolation, anxiety and depression. If we were to sit back and acknowledge: is this simply a survival lesson that as humans we are happier together, what would we find?
There could be multiple lessons to learn from this, such as how can I increase my connections with other humans? How can I listen better, interact more freely? Perhaps the lesson is how to feel more comfortable in your own skin so you are not worried about rejection. Or perhaps you could learn better boundaries so that you can be in relationship without exhaustion. The lesson could even be about how to be more comfortable alone. The point is, you will never have access to that lesson if you don’t accept and turn toward the emotion.
There are other lessons you could learn from negative emotions, such as
– expecting better from friendships after you’ve felt disappointed
– how you can value yourself more after feeling low self-worth
– how you can de-stress when you’re feeling run-down
– realising that perhaps you’re not always right when feeling frustrated after argument
– asking what is holding you back when feeling confused or after a failure
Can I do this alone?
If this sounds difficult, you’re right. It is. I recommend that if the emotion is pervasive or overwhelming (such as depression) we do this process with the support with a therapist and the loved one’s around us.
Let’s take depression (which is a more concrete expression of sadness) as an example of how and when we might seek help. I often equate depression to an injury, like a broken leg. Looked at it this way we can see what we need to heal
If we’ve broken a leg we need to
1. Set it straight, which equates to setting yourself straight. This means reflecting on what’s happening and realising it’s time to do something about it.
2. Put support around it, which equates to seeking help: finding a therapist, talking to your loved ones, and making a plan that you stick to
3. Rest it, which equates to withdrawing from some social commitments, relinquishing responsibilities, relaxing, resting and nourishing yourself (this includes kindness and tenderness to yourself.)
4. Use a crutch if and when you need to function, this equates to medications or other techniques that help you function, but that you wouldn’t use until you’ve tried the other 3
With the right structure for healing around us we will be able to look toward the lesson in even the most uncomfortable emotions. If we can’t, then we won’t reap the benefit of learning, growing and enriching our lives.
When is the right time?
I believe in a balanced approach to life. There is a metronome between performing and rest. As much as we need to get out there and go for it, we also need reflection, grief, and quiet. Turning toward the negative emotion (with or without therapy) is for those times in your life when you wish to learn lessons, be introspective, or understand yourself and humanity. It is in introspection where we look into the nature of our life and the world.
As we have talked about over the last two weeks controlling emotions and finding peak states are for those time when we are feeling resilient, energetic and desiring performance. Whether we do this alone or with a coach, it is for those time when we want to improve our life and feel equipped to do so. NLP skills are all about getting results, bouncing back from difficulty, and controlling emotions so you can perform in peak state.
Using coaching and NLP methods you can actually perform at 100%, but in my opinion this is not sustainable: at some point you will crash. This is part of the metronome, or balance, of life. We need to know when is the right time to perform and when to sit back and rest.
I like to explain it this way: Coaching and NLP are for when we feel resilient, even if life is difficult or needs improvement. Therapy is also for those times when we are lacking resiliency, having breakdowns or feeling overwhelmed. In these times we can really have the support to embrace what we are feeling, allow it to be as it is, and learn from the lesson
NLP began in California in the 1970’s, founded by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, and has developed ever since. These two researches wanted to explore how we could model excellence, so they learned how some the best communicators in the world got their results. They then packaged what they learned as ‘NLP’ or neurolinguistic programming.
NLP is most often called the study of subjective experience or the owners manual for the brain. I have found myself particularly stumped at how to properly explain what NLP is to those who haven’t yet studied it. This is likely because NLP is a practical experience and not so much a theory. Even so, I have been asked so many times about what it is and why I offer it as a training, so I am now attempting to put it into words.
Let’s start with a brief rundown of its many benefits and then we will go into some more specific areas of why and how this works. NLP will help you to
The greatest takeaway I have seen from NLP is how it improves your communication with others. This has brilliant effects on your personal life as you learn to express your needs effectively and speak your truth.
Yet in order to do this we have to address and enhance your communication with self. This requires us to understand how we already communicate with ourselves, and to increase our awareness of this process. When we are able to communicate with ourselves fully, we can actually choose our own programming to gain the most functionality and benefit.
Here’s what I mean:
Your internal programming
Each of us has an existing programming and a preferred internal language. This is due to many factors of our genetics and upbringing that we won’t go into here. You can think about it as an operating system like your phone or laptop. There are Apples and Samsungs and although they are quite different each works well in its own right. Some people prefer one over the other. Your operating system is the same.
In the 4 day NLP training that I offer I will teach you to recognise your internal programming and language: whether you are auditory, visual or kinaesthetic; whether you are general vs specific or logic vs abstract. We will break down your internal system so you can understand how you really work.
Once we know this about you, you’ll be able to have a clear understanding of what your programming is and therefore how we can get the maximum results you want to have for your life. This may be as simple as understanding how you can be happier, feel more alive, or communicate your needs more effectively to your spouse. It can also relate to work, daily routines or any other aspect of your day to day existence. Really, the possibilities are endless.
Your internal programming determines how you personally experience an event, which is what we call subjective experience. Let’s look at this in more detail.
Each experience we have is data rich. But as we take in an event in time, we run it through our own filters to understand what we are seeing. George Miller explained that there are approximately two billion bits of info coming at us per moment in chunks of data, yet we only process seven, plus or minus two at a time. This means that in order to take in our experience we are constantly in a process of deleting, distorting and generalising the real experience.
In order to share this experience with others we have to again delete, distort and generalise because of the limitations of language. Therefore we experience and share a watered down version of life.
Here’s the important part: HOW we delete, distort and generalise our experience depends upon our current state. I like to explain this ideas of state using the metaphor of coloured glasses. You still with me?
Let’s say you are in a sad state because you recently experienced loss of a loved on. Then it’s like you are wearing sad coloured glasses. This means you look around the world and everything looks depressing. Why? Because the sad glasses are deleting everything that doesn’t fit into the sad-lens. All those 2 billion bits of data are getting deleted, distorted and generalised down to fit the picture you have going on.
Your best friend may be sitting next to you taking in the same sunset on the beach, but she is wearing lust glasses. She is deleting anything out that’s not gooey and delicious because her experience right now is of new love. Same scene, different internal experience. You could then both go home and describe alternate watered down experiences coloured but your glasses. Hers would be one of love, yours of sadness, even though you shared the exact same sunset.
If we are wearing anger glasses, then everything looks infuriating, like a pair of shoes that lie out of place by the front door. The shoes are simply shoes. But if we look at them with angry glasses, then they become the F-ing shoes that the kids always leave out for you to trip over. The kids come home and see the shoes, but now they’re just shoes.
In this way, the event itself is not what we responding to: ie the sunset or the shoes. We are responding to the state we are in at the time.
In the 4 day NLP training we teach you how to identify different states. We then learn about “resource states” which are the states that are the most effective for what you want to do; ie what state do you need to exercise in? To parent, work or study?
We teach you to identify, access and lock in these resource states. We teach you to put on the right glasses. In this way you learn how to control your emotions or states, in such a way that they no longer control you.
NLP is a beautiful way to understand yourself, to learn the way your brain functions and to get yourself back in control of life. I hope this article has given you a richer understanding of what this training can do for you. Contact me if you would like to learn more book in to our next 4 day INLPTA training.
Over the last month or more we have been talking about self care and how to implement it, and how you can’t fill from an empty cup.
My clients have been asking how do I actually do this? How do I make the changes I need to make around the house to take care of myself? How do I care for myself with love and compassion and still care for my loved ones too?
The answer really is boundaries. Not narcissistic boundaries that don’t account for the needs of other too, but boundaries that are steeped in compassion for both self and others. In this way, boundaries and compassion coexist and work together. Let’s take a look at what this means.
What is a boundary?
When I ask my client what a boundary is they usually say something like “it’s a line,” or “it’s something you shouldn’t cross”. While this is true I like to remind them of one very important truth:
A boundary is made up.
This is significant for one very big reason: if you’re the only one who made it up, and no one else knows about it or believes in it, then you’ll find that boundary being crossed over and over and over again. Clients say to me all the time that they try to set boundaries but that no one listens to them. They set some rules and get walked over by the kids, the spouse, the friends.
Does this sound familiar? If so, then the answer is probably that you must not be believing in the boundary very much. I tell my clients that the key to success is that you have to believe in that boundary more than they don’t.
Think of a line between states or borders between countries. In reality, they are just imaginary lines we drew on the earth and then agreed upon their validity. Everyone agrees that the line is there and sooner or later, they all behave as if the line is real.
Sometimes, if there’s resistance, we might war over those borders, lines and boundaries until everyone settles down to it and a truce is met. We might use fences or guards to reinforce them, in case those who don’t quite agree try to sneak across. However it is done, if we truly believe in the line between two countries and everyone else does too, then we’ll do whatever it takes to keep that line real.
While this can have unreasonable implications in a world sense (that we won’t go into here: no politics please) this is a great analogy for understanding how we can implement boundaries in our own lives. Here are some clear steps you can follow the next time you want to create a boundary.
+ Step one: set the boundary in the place that you want it
+ Step two: let everyone know where the line in the sand has been drawn
+ Step three: be absolutely clear about the consequences of crossing said boundary
+ Step four: patiently engage in any negotiation, arguments, or war that arises: and reach a truce
+ Step five: be ready with fences or armed guards to catch trespassers.Some examples of boundaries
What kind of boundaries might need to be set? Here are some ideas:
+ how you expect to be treated or spoken to
+ behaviours you do or don’t expect from others
+ chores that need to be done around the house
+ activities you need to engage in for your self careWhile not knowing how to set boundaries takes away our own freedom and joy, the boundaries we create should never take away from another’s freedom or joy either. The key component that guides us here is compassion.
Compassionate boundaries account for everyone involved. Keep in mind when considering all of this that narcissists generally have great boundaries. This isn’t an exercise in narcissism, rather when drawing lines you are taking into account the needs and desires of others: you are always offering the same thing you seek: kindness and respect.
A few questions to ask:
+ Am I honouring and respecting myself with this boundary?
+ Am I honouring and respecting others with this boundary?
+ Am I making this boundary free of resentment, anger or vengeance?
If you can answer yes to these three questions then you’re probably on the right track. A narcissist will always be able to answer yes to the first but not the second. A martyr will usually be able the answer yes to the second but not the first. The third question is there to help you avoid setting a knee jerk boundary out of spite or revenge. This may mean waiting until your anger has subsided so you can set a more reasonable line.
Understanding your audience
Once the boundaries are set we need to bring compassion to how we enforce them. This means understanding our audience. For example, the way I reinforce the rules with a young child will be completely different to my grown husband. The child will require much more firmness and discipline, which would be condescending and hurtful to an adult, who needs gentle and clear communication only.
The exception here is if you are in a violent, abusive or otherwise unsafe relationship with an adult. In this case the boundary will most likely be to walk away: as any other boundary you try to set is likely to end in violence and abuse.
For a work colleague or employee there is extra tact required: you may remind them of the goals of the team and positively encourage them to meet the expectation of the boundary in a way that they failed to do so. Or you may gently remind them of the area of their job description that is not being met.
When it comes to boundaries the two most important things to remember are this:
+ If you can’t create boundaries for yourself you will always be running from an empty cup, and
+ The boundaries you set should still allow for the other’s personal growth.
As a Psychotherapist and Coach, I see many of my clients trying to give out caring and love when they don’t have enough of it to give. They are depleted, resentful, frustrated and tired. And they are mad at themselves for not having more to offer their loved ones. “Am I a bad mother?”, they ask, whispering. “Am I a terrible wife?”
If this sounds familiar (at least sometimes) then this article is for you. It is about a very simple truth that often goes unacknowledged.
“You have to have it to give it”.
In this post we’re going to explore what this means and how we can get “it” back with healthy self care habits. If you don’t have a solid concept of what self care is, or you’ve never been able to implement it for yourself, then stop reading here and scroll down to last weeks post on self care.
Ok, you’re back? Great… let’s move on.
However we perceive the mystery of life, what we know for sure is that we are in this human body, and that this body has needs. If we don’t meet these needs we become depleted. It really is this simple, we cannot give out what we don’t have to give. And the experts agree: as best selling author and psychiatrist Dan Siegel says, “If we don’t care for ourselves we become limited in our capacity to care for others”.
I think about this mostly in the sense of being a Mum. If I haven’t recharged myself I tend to drag myself toward my children in a way that includes my exhaustion, irritability, short-temperedness and reactivity.
When I’m refreshed, clean, well fed and nourished I can show up as my best self: patient, kind, open, responsive.
Yet, none if us live in a vacuum. The reality is that we have people to care for and sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. On one hand, we are wired to be in relationship and community, and we thrive on the company of others: Family is what brings many of us our greatest joy.
Yet, if we’re not careful we can be left feeling drained by what our loved ones need, and by what other people crave.
As a mother of four children I know too well that if we are feeling depleted then filling someone else’s cup is short lived. Once we run out of everything we’ve got (which I have done repeatedly) we have nothing left to give. At that point, taking care of others becomes an exercise in martyrdom and comes with very little joy.
While this joyless sacrifice may be necessary at times, we want to keep it to a minimum. Mostly, we want to be a carer, mother, friend, employee, or partner out of a balanced and healthy place that feels energising, not draining.
There is really only one way to do this, and that is to keep your cup full.
First, let’s look at some signs that let you know you’re running on empty:
+ feeling irritable, impatient, anxious or depressed
+ being forgetful and scattered
+ finding yourself nit-picking your loved ones
+ complaining more than usual
+ feeling tired, even after waking up
+ not being able to sleep, or oversleeping
+ having physical problems (excessive colds, headaches etc)
+ over or under eating
So, what can we do about this? How can we fill our cup when we feel like we have so much to do? Many of us have the mistaken belief that it is selfish to put yourself before your loved ones. This is often heightened if you are a parent and don’t want to put yourself before the kids.
Yet this isn’t a me vs you situation. We all know the rules of an airplane crash right? You put your own oxygen mask on before the children. Why? Because if you’re not getting the oxygen you need to breathe, you’re not going to be able to help them either. In this light we can see easily that this was never me vs you. Instead it’s always me, then you. It’s me, for you.
These days I keep my cup full. I do this because I’ve changed my thinking to believe that taking care of myself must be done. If I don’t put on my oxygen mask then how can I hope to get the right kind of air to my loved ones?
Likewise, filling your cup must become a priority. There are many ways to do this and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Some nights it may just mean choosing the movie YOU want to watch. Or when you’ve really had enough you can tell everyone you have a headache and spend the day in bed.
There are plenty more ideas in last weeks post on self care, so if you haven’t already done so, give it a read.
The real question at hand is, what kind of parent, wife, husband, or friend do you want to be for your loved ones? Cranky? Resentful? Grumpy?
Or open, loving patient and kind?
The decision is yours. Choose wisely.
Often it is when we most need to take care of ourselves that we “don’t have the time” to do it. Yet self care is so important, especially when times get busy or tough. In this post, we’re going to first talk about what Self Care is, and then explore ways you can implement it.
Self Care is really a form of self love. It is letting yourself know that YOU are important enough to take care of. This may go against what you learned about yourself as a child, or how you are used to behaving as an adult. But logically we all know that if we don’t take good care of something, it wears out faster, falls apart or fails.
Let me ask you, do you want to fall apart?
I didn’t think so.
So, what is self care?
Self Care is the antidote to falling apart. It is the daily, weekly and yearly maintenance you do to take care of your body, heart and mind. This can be small things, big things or anything in between. This maintenance can take a little bit of time or a lot of time, but as with anything, consistency is key.
Your care plan will look different depending on what you have going on. In other words: self care is going to be quite particular to you and your unique life. Let’s explore some potential ways to care for you.
+ drink enough water
+ eat in a particular way that feels healthy to you+ getting x number of hours of sleep
+ take time for meditation, prayer or breathing exercises
+ create a morning or evening ritual
+ incorporate some kind of fitness routine
+ do a group activity (ie yoga)
+ spend time with friends
+ spend time alone
+ spend time in nature
+ read an inspiring book
+ get pampered (ie massage, hair cut, facial)
+ create a bath ritual
+ take time away from children or family responsibilities
+ take a digital detox (reduce screen time)
+ enjoy a cup of tea somewhere quiet
+ eat a meal mindfully
+ go on a retreat
+ go to a movie by yourself
+ clean out your closets
+ hire someone to clean your house
+ schedule a daily nap
When reading this it is important to remember that you aren’t trying to do all of these things. Self care is about knowing when you are feeling run down or depleted, and then knowing what will fill you back up.
Let’s use Jodie as a real life example of reasonable self-care. Jodie is a Mum of 2. Her children are both under 5 years old and her husband works full time. That doesn’t leave a lot of time left over, yet Jodie knows how important it is to keep herself nourished.
Jodie’s self care
+ 6-7 hours of sleep at some point in her 24 hour day. Sometimes this means she leaves the tidying up for later and naps with her youngest.
+ Instead of meditating, Jodie does two sessions of intentional breathing each day. She aims for three minutes but doesn’t always get there.
+ drinks 2 litres of water per day and limits to 2 cups of coffee
+ Jodie uses a sitter for 3 hours a day, 2 days per week so she can take some time for herself to sleep, run, or take a bubble bath on her own
+ she has one outing per week with a close girlfriend while her husband watches the kids, and
+ one date night every other week with hubby while her close girlfriend watches the kids.
None of these are easy to implement. Her youngest is still up frequently at night, so 6-7 hours seemed more realistic than 8. The sitter required lengthy negotiation with her husband to budget out the right amount. And the breathing exercises were better than nothing, even though Jodie would much prefer to meditate. The date night with hubby is a swap with their close friends: one week Jodie takes their kids and then they switch.
How about you?
Take a look at your own life and see, what could you implement right now to ensure your body, heart and mind are taken care of? How can you prevent wear and tear, damage or burn out?
It might take a little creativity, and good communication with your partner, children, work colleagues or friends. Just remember self care is whatever gives, not takes away.
Like most other animals on our earth we survived by being part of a pack. Our biology evolved to encourage us to work together, to be a clan. In other words, we’re supposed to be together.
Our body is a complex system: brain, spinal cord, nervous system and hormones all playing a part in sending us messages for survival. Our body communicates to us using hormones and it uses one in particular to drives us to reproduce, to stay safe and to work together. It’s called oxytocin.
Oxytocin is sometimes called the love hormone, as it is secreted in our bodies at times of great connection like hugging, orgasm and childbirth. It is produced in your hypothalamus (an area deep within your brain) and is the hormone associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building.
Oxytocin makes us feel those gorgeous feelings of love, connection, community. It’s the yummy feeling we get when we’re with someone we care about. When they body makes oxytocin, it sets off a chain in which serotonin is also created, which is a major antidepressant.
From and evolutionary perspective, the secretion of these feel good chemicals make sense. When we are engaging in activities that ensure our survival (like reproduction and togetherness) our body lets us know by feeling good.
Likewise, if we are isolated, disconnected or alone for too long, the body lets us know by feeling bad.
Isolation, anxiety and depression
It is the absence of these chemicals that result in us feeling bad. If we feel bad for long enough, it will likely develop into anxiety and depression. Many recent studies have reported that social isolation is a leading cause of anxiety. This could be because oxytocin is extremely difficult to produce when you are on your own.
As the incidence of anxiety disorders continue to rise dramatically, perhaps the right question to ask is, why are we feeling so alone? Even when we are physically in the presence of others, many of us still feel like we’re not connected. This could be because we fear rejection, so we don’t want to risk feeling vulnerable and exposed.
Carl Jung said, “loneliness is not the absence of people, it isthe absence of connection with people”. What this means is that for the body to create healthy levels of oxytocin, we need to feel relaxed, connected and in sync with others, and being in a state of fear is counterproductive to this process.
In addition, the body can become confused by social media. We have the sense that we are connected through our online communities, but we are not feeding the chemical and biological requirements of being physically in sync. Even though real relationships can be difficult and irritating, it is vital to our overall physical and mental well being to be together.
With that in mind, the new question is, how can we create the oxytocin we need?
Bessel Van Der Kolk (a leading psychiatrist and author of The Body Keeps the Score) says that one of the key ways to encourage oxytocin production is to get our body into sync with other bodies, literally. This can be an act as simple as everyone putting chairs out together for a dinner or gathering.
This is important when considering the fight against depression and anxiety. If you are depressed or anxious, you may have arrived at this state due to social fears around rejection. If you are afraid to speak and connect then these group physical activities are the path to recovery. Joining an art or yoga class can be particularly helpful as there is almost no need for social talking.
The point is, we don’t have to be in conversation to feel connected, we simply have to be together doing the same physical motions. This works better when we can be relaxed enough to be vulnerable, so if you’re feeling social anxious, start with the activities that feel safe to you.
Oxytocin for trust
The crazy thing is that once you start to produce more oxytocin you will actually feel more trust, and you will be more likely to engage in activities that will then produce more oxytocin. In this way social isolation is a bit of a downward cycle, where the oxytocin production of social interaction is an upward cycle.
I love this quote by Bessel Van Der Kolk, “If you feel safe and loved, your brain becomes specialised in exploration, play and cooperation: If you are frightened and unwanted, it specialises in managing feelings of fear and abandonment”.
Generating oxytocin through social interaction is a sure way to move toward play, exploration and connection with all beings, and from there, into a happy life.
If you’re feeling brave and want to try for yourself, here are a some of my favourite ideas for how we can increase the hormone oxytocin and combat feelings of anxiety and depression.
What better way to get your body in sync with another than to go in for a big wide hug? The longer the better, but remember you have to feel safe. Even though we are scared of touch, it works wonders and deep down, everyone wants the connection. Try telling people that you hug rather than shake hands and see what happens.
Share meals as often as you can. If you’re part of a family, resist the urge to eat alone, or with TV. Instead, sit together and share the food consciously: talking and looking at one another. If you’re single, try organising dinners or inviting people over.
GIVE YOUR FULL ATTENTION
When you’re with someone really listen to them. Make eye contact. If you’re afraid of connecting, then listening deeply and asking questions is a great way to keep your fears at bay.
GIVE A GIFT
Ever felt that warm glow in your chest when you give someone a birthday present or buy them dinner? Yep that’s your body telling you that gifts are a beautiful way to connect and create community.
WATCH A GAME
Cheering for a sports team can make us feel like we’re back in a clan. If you can’t find one to physically attend, then watching your football team on TV can boost your oxytocin levels too.
CUDDLE A PET
It doesn’t have to be a human body that you need to sync with, you can match up to an animal too. Walking, petting or playing with a pet is a great way to feel connected and loved.
JOIN A GROUP
As mentioned earlier, you can join a formal group, like a sports team, yoga class, art class, or book club. This is an excellent way to be together without a lot of pressure
Recently a client came to me complaining that she couldn’t stay consistent with her morning ritual. I asked her to share with me what practices she was doing and she pulled out a long list of about eight things.
While the intention behind our goals can be heartfelt, we need to be careful to set ourselves up for success, not failure. Lasting change happens with consistency over time, rather than in one huge swing of unsustainable effort.
In this article I’m going to share with you the simple daily ritual I recommend, and hopefully demonstrate why picking one or two special rituals is more powerful than trying to do them all.
The importance of ritual
By ritual, I simply mean the intentional creation of an ongoing helpful habit. This could be waking up each morning a little earlier than the kids to sit quietly with a cup of tea and purposefully muse on the goodness of life. Or it could mean that you leave your phone off for the first fifteen minutes after you wake, to sit in meditation and gather a sense of calm and purpose before the day begins.
Whatever you choose, it should be intentional, consistent and nourishing.
As humans, we are creatures of habit. Our brains are so incredibly powerful and efficient that they work by wiring neurones together to make easy work of repeating the same tasks. This means that whatever you repeatedly do, you do “easier”. If your habit is to wake up, smoke a cigarette and scroll through facebook, then your brain will continue to take you to that habit automatically and repeatedly.
Ritual breaks those old habits and rewires the brain for new ones. At first, they require commitment, but once they become automatic, they are simply part of our day. In this way, ritual and habit are the building blocks for our life.
My recommendation is to book-end your day with a morning and night ritual. The evening is a perfect time for reflective journalling or gratitude, as we can look back over and day and consider what went well, how we were generous or kind, and what we are thankful for.
The morning is a great time to set an intention, to clear the mind and to consider what we want for our day. This is achieved best through meditation: either formally by sitting and inclining the mind toward presence or through moving meditation like yoga or tai chi. It can also be less formal as in the cup of tea example I gave above.
Let’s explore these in further detail:
Evening practice: reflective journalling
At the end of the day make an intentional commitment to remove distractions. This may mean shutting down computers, turning off the television, and switching phones to do not disturb or airplane mode. If you’re in a busy home where this isn’t possible, you can create a quiet place away from distractions and make sure everyone knows this is your special reflective time.
Sit quietly for a few moments with a journal and pen and take some conscious breaths. Nothing fancy, just to centre yourself and turn inward. I suggest having the following two questions ready to answer.
1) What were three nice things that happened today?This could be simple things like a stranger smiling at you, a really well made coffee, or catching a nice sunset on your drive home from work.
It could also be things that you did well, like a task you finally completed. Or maybe you put yourself out there somehow or achieved a small goal. Maybe you managed to smile at someone or opened a door for a stranger. Keep in mind, it’s totally irrelevant whether other people thought you did well: it’s only what you think.
2) What were you thankful for today?
At first, it’s okay if nothing springs to mind or if you feel there’s nothing to be grateful for. If you’re not used to looking for ways to give thanks your mind might draw a blank, but if you commit to doing this every day then you will train your brain to notice the good.
If it’s a struggle, dig deep. Perhaps you can be grateful that we have hot water that comes directly out of the wall, or that you have clean food and water to ingest. That there is air to breath and that if you listen, you can hear sounds of birds and nature.
If you really can’t find anything, then simply be grateful that you have a quiet place to sit and that you have a mind capable of looking for gratitude.
It’s also important to look for new things, not just the same one’s each time. Recent studies show that it’s the search itself for something to be grateful for that spikes dopamine (a feel good chemical and antidepressant) in the brain.
NOTE: If you experience depression, then both of these questions may be difficult to answer at first. Day one you might just sit there and write nothing, but don’t assume that it is a waste of time. The brain is so adaptable that on day two, it will already be catching on: and maybe it will think of one thing to write, and on day three, a few more. Each day you will keep building value and the brain will set a new bar to reach. This is the nature of our human mind, so just keep going.
Morning Practice: meditation
The most powerful way to start the morning is in quiet reflection. There are hundreds of ways to meditate, though I hope you won’t get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. In its simplest form meditation simply means to sit and be present. You might do this by noticing your breathing, sound, or to repeat a mantra or phrase. You could also use a guided meditation.
There are other ways to reflect in the quiet of the morning. I have a client who wakes up, makes a cup of tea, sets her timer for thirty minutes and sits quietly back in her bed to drink it. She doesn’t turn on her phone off of airplane mode until after this ritual. It’s her favourite part of the day.
In the beginning less is more. Committing to five minutes a day is better than trying for thirty minutes and only fitting it in once a week. Developing a habit is about consistency and patience. After the meditation or ritual has become a habit, you can extend the time.
These practices are so simple, and can be done in less than ten minutes morning and night. I suggest making a commitment to doing this every day for a period of time and then really going for it. They say it takes 21 days to make a habit, so that would be a good place to start
What does it mean to have trust in a relationship?
I am not specifically a relationship therapist, yet almost all clients will inevitably discuss their relationships with me. This is because relationships are the greatest challenge in our lives.
It is easy to be peaceful and at ease on our own, but together we are forced to work through our sticky parts. This makes relationships one of the best ways to grow and learn.But as we all know, this is often not how it works. Instead, many relationships grow apart.
What decides if we grow together or not? To me, it’s trust. But what does trust really mean?
Trust is the assumption that the other has positive intent
Whether you are together or apart, trust is the assumption that your partner is always acting with positive intent (in other words, even when something they do hurts or triggers you, you trust they weren’t intending to). Sounds easy right? It’s not. It takes an incredible amount of courage to continue to make this assumption that you partner always means well.
If you find it impossible to assume positive intent from your ‘other’, it’s likely that there is one thing holding you back: you probably believe, deep down, that your partner will hurt you. Because of this belief you unconsciously try to protect yourself.
I’m going to share with you my personal trust story as an example of what I mean. First, let’s look at how unconscious belief’s run our lives, as it is integral to the story.
Step One: Uncovering your unconscious beliefs
Many years back, when I first stated my personal development journey, I realised that there was a nasty voice inside my head that was constantly berating me. It said so many terrible things that I was surprised that I had never noticed it before.
Most of what I heard was tape loops of the same few things: I am annoying, I am too much. I began to study this voice: at first it sounded like my own, then later I could recognise the voices of others.
Eventually, while I was training to be a psychotherapist I found a new layer and it wasn’t a voice at all. It was like a feeling, or a sense of something: like music without the words. I realised that the reason it didn’t have words was because it was a belief I had formed before I even knew how to speak. It was like a soundtrack that had been playing from the time I was a baby, and it was “I am really annoying”.
Current studies suggest that we even begin to form our perception of the world in utero, through the chemicals of the blood we share with our mother. We are picking up on the environment around us from the very beginning and forming beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Noticing the voice in your head, or the feeling that you carry, is the very first step to making conscious change in your life. If your unconscious beliefs remain unconscious they will continue to run in the background, ruling your life and making all your decisions for you.
(A while ago, we posted an article called The Three Questions that you can read if you want to understand more about this.)
Step 2: What are you protecting yourself from?
Around the time I discovered this deep belief, “I am annoying” I was working closely with my colleagues in my psychotherapy training. It was a safe space to explore, so I got up the courage to ask them if they thought I was annoying. They were somewhat shocked that I held this belief, as to them it wasn’t even a little bit true.
There was real power in seeing this long-held belief for what it was. Once we can see clearly, we gain an insight into what we are protecting ourselves from. I realised that I had been going into all of my relationships, romantic or not, with this unconscious belief that I was annoying. This meant that I believed eventually, the other would come to this conclusion too. I had to protect myself from the inevitable outcome of getting hurt.
This causes non-trust, beacsue the unconscious question you ask is, “How is this person going to hurt me?” This is very different to, “are they going to?”, which could be a valid question. There is an assumption that there will definitely be hurt, the only variant is the quality of the pain.
I’d gone into every relationship carefully so that I wouldn’t be abrasive or annoying. This meant there was always a bit of me holding back, because I had to protect my shameful secret. If you have trouble with trust, you probably do you do this too.
The question is, what are you protecting yourself from?
Step 3: Realise that trust is a habit
Like love or gratitude we mostly think of trust as something that is simply there, as if it should just come to us when we need it. But trust (like love) is a verb: a doing word. We have to cultivate and practice it.
Over the years our inability to trust may have become a strong habit. Though we may believe our behaviours are permanent or unchangeable, this is simply not true. The way we think and act can be rearranged with repetition of something different.
We must realise that we are behaving in a habit and find a new way.
Step 4: Try a new way
Once I had identified that my habit was of protecting, of not-trusting, and of assuming negative intent, I knew it had to change. I made a decision to not accept anything that’s not trust.
I went through a process of catch, repeat, repeat. I would realise I was not-trusting and I would ask: how can I do this another way? It was hard, but I kept telling myself that this was about my beliefs, and not about my partner’s actions.
During this process, it is important to communicate with your partner. As I did, you can say something like “I realise I have trust issues. I am going to work on this. Could you please be patient? This is something I’m working on: it’s not about you”.
My partner was very receptive as he had been feeling like he had to constantly demonstrate himself to me. As I took responsibility for my feelings he no longer had to prove that he was honourable and our relationship was able to shift to a place of deeper comfort.
Get the facts
It’s important to remember that we don’t need to assume that all people are acting with positive intent. Of course there are plenty of nasty and dishonest people in the world that will genuinely cause harm to us, sometimes intentionally. This method is to be used within the relationships you have and value: with people that you have assessed as worthy.
At the beginning of each relationship it is important to gather the facts. Is your partner kind, honest and virtuous? Is he/she a cheating dirtbag? Gather the information you need to decide, and then move into trust.
This amazing journey of self discovery taught me something beautiful. That whether or not we learn to trust in our family of origin: trust can be a decision that we make. We can learn to not accept anything that’s not trust, and we can learn to assume that just like we are, everyone is doing the very best they can. This is positive intent.
This case study is a follow-up to our article on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and will be used to demonstrate the highly effective technique of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a therapy that assists in the processing of traumatic memories using rapid eye movement. During the therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on a rapidly moving stimulus, in this case the therapist’s finger moving in front of the patient’s eyes.
How it works
When we sleep, short term memories are processed into long term memory through the rapid eye movement of REM sleep. Traumatic memories often skip this step, staying in short term memory. During EMDR impactful memories and psychological distress associated to the event is eliminated, and negative beliefs are reformulated into positive ones.
The most effective way to understand how EMDR works, and why it might be the right form of therapy for you, is to understand by example. If you haven’t read our last post on PTSD https://wordpress.com/post/therapyandtrainingdotcomdotau.wordpress.com/106, you might want to go back and read that now.
To explore EMDR by example, we will use Kate as our case study. Kate is a real person who came to me for a full day intensive EMDR session last year. When we discussed using her as the case study for this article, she decided she wanted to write about it herself. The following is Kate’s account of the process:
Kate the Paramedic
I came to see Jenny with many undiagnosed symptoms of PTSD. I had been a first responder for 13 years, and had resigned 2 years prior to our session. I had decided to resign due to a sudden onset of physical tension and anxiety about 12 years into my career. I’d been to a run of awful calls and somehow my body wasn’t recovering. It took 6 months of dealing with this new anxiety (I’d never experienced anything like it) to resign. The tension and anxiety continued for another 18 months after I left.
I had been mostly anxiety free when I came to see Jenny. I was unmedicated, had received very little therapy and had used meditation, yoga, coaching and personal development work to heal. While this was working beautifully (and I was very proud of myself), I felt that there was some kind of “misfiring” occurring in my mind. It’s hard to describe, but it was like something was a little “off” and needed fixing. After hearing repeatedly that EMDR had helped others when nothing else worked, I wanted to give it a try.
Even though I was anxiety free, my system was fragile. I avoided TV, I never watched the news, and I struggled to hear about any form of death, violence or tragedy. I became highly triggered when I went to any of the areas where I used to work and I felt stressed if I talked to old coworkers.
I didn’t suffer from textbook nightmares or flashbacks, but I would get extremely disturbing memories that felt like they bombarded and overtook my mind. When I would remember one memory, the whole line-up of 13 years of them would play like a movie reel.
I was tired of carrying this burden. I still identified as a happy person, yet I struggled to feel the old “easy going” nature I used to have. Over the last two years I’d felt an increasing sense despair and hopelessness about the world. I wanted to stop having to avoid potential triggers all the time, and I longed to feel normal again.
Jenny asked me to come in with three main memories in mind: the most recent, the first, and the worst. We chatted for a while to get comfortable, then sat opposite one another in a chair. We began with the worst memory. Jenny asked me to bring to mind the most impactful moment of that memory and to screenshot it, or lock it in.
I had been avoiding this memory, and as I brought it to mind I began to sob, shake, and tense. There was so much emotion, grief and horror there. Jenny coached me to breathe, and let me know we would take our time. She asked me rate the level of disturbance, and I immediately gave it the highest number.
Then, Jenny asked me what the negative belief I held about myself in that moment was. I was confused, what did this horrible moment have to do with me? I couldn’t come up with anything: I was so inside the memory. Jenny gave me a piece of paper with a list of beliefs. I read down the list thinking: I don’t know what these have to do with that woman dying, but ok. And then one line jumped out at me
I am inadequate.
“Holy shit. I think that’s it,” I told her. Something inside me broke open, as I realised I didn’t think I had done a good enough job that day. I secretly thought that being so horrified on that call made me an inadequate paramedic, an inadequate person. If I were better, I wouldn’t have been so disturbed.
Each negative belief has an opposing positive belief, and in that case it was I am adequate. I did a good job. Jenny asked me to rate how true I felt that was. I gave it a low score. Then she asked me to hold the belief together with the memory, and to look at the index finger she was holding out in front of my eyes. She moved it back and forth, and I simply followed.
She stopped, and asked me to recall the memory again. It was somehow less. We kept doing this over and over. Each time we repeated the eye movement, the memory lessoned, change, lowered, and the emotion around it changed too. Eventually, it was like the woman in my memory was a friend: she wanted me to know she thought I did a good job, that I was not just adequate but excellent, that I had honoured her. She wanted to say thank you to me.
We kept going: back and forth, back and forth, until eventually I realised that the woman was me. I was the one who wanted me to know I was excellent. I wanted to say thank you to myself for the good work I had done.
We went through so many memories that day, all of which had their own negative beliefs. They were somewhat similar: Feelings of inadequacy, incompetency, or weakness. Ridiculous beliefs that I could have done better. And each time, without fail, we transformed them into the truth.
I had been an amazing paramedic. I had done the very best I could. I was a good person. At times I cried or laughed with the realisation of it. It was like angelic lightbulbs were going off everywhere. And with each one, a release from the secret burdens I’d been carrying. All those years I’d had these shameful secrets hiding away in my unconscious mind where I couldn’t find them.
That was the trauma.
There was magic in the eye movement: the memories themselves becoming further away, more distant and hazy. Each of those memories faded away into something that still existed, but didn’t hold me so tight. I still remember all the things I’ve done, so nothing has been taken away. If anything EMDR gave me back my truth.
Still, many months later, the disturbance is gone. And still, many months later I know my truth: I did a great job, and I’m a good person.
Like Kate, most people do not understand that they have formed negative beliefs about themselves through their trauma. EMDR was created to reprocess not just the memory itself, but also the negative beliefs associated with the memory.
Through multiple studies, EMDR has seen incredible results.A study funded by Kaiser Permanente found that 100% of single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. (SOURCE EMDR Institute: http://www.emdr.com/)
Each of us have sustained countless trauma’s in our lives, and in each one we formed beliefs about ourselves. Given how effective the results of EMDR are in treating “big trauma,” imagine what it can do for all the events in our lives, from our childhood and our youth, that led to our low self-worth, unlovability, insecurities and fears.
EMDR is for anyone who has formed a negative belief about who they are. And that, my friends, is everyone
If you’ve made it this far in your life without sustaining some kind of trauma, then you are one of the lucky ones. Most of us are experiencing different kinds of trauma all along the timeline of our lives. Some of these are big traumas, some of them small. And whether they leave a lasting mark or scar is difficult to predict.
What is Trauma?
The word trauma is subjective based on experience, so I’d like to take a moment to define it before we move on. Trauma is what occurs anytime we take on injury. This could be a physical injury: a bruise, a broken bone, a cut to the skin. Or it could be an emotional or metal injury that causes damage to the psyche: feelings of inadequacy, lack of safety, or an experience of hurt or pain.
Most of the time, a traumatic event leaves both physical and emotional wounds. For example a car accident may leave you with broken bones and a head injury, along with complex emotional scars from the fear, pain or loss that occurred. Likewise, a sexual assault leaves a complex array of physical and emotional wounds.
What is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress is what can occur after a physical or emotional injury. “Post” simply means after, indicating that there is a stress associated in the wake of a traumatic event. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a diagnosable condition based on set criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
You can see the full criteria here https://www.brainline.org/article/dsm-5-criteria-ptsd, though to summarise: a person experiences distress, upsetting memories or flashbacks, becomes unsettled or hyper-vigilant and has difficulty feeling positive about themselves or the world.
In addition, the person experiences a sense of depersonalisation or derealisation: as if things are not real or are not happening to them. PTSD is longer term: being diagnosed only after six months post event, with symptoms occurring for months or even years.
Another way to look at PTSD
There is another way that we can look at PTSD that I find very helpful. It is the program that didn’t get to run, and the dream that never happened. Let’s look at these two concepts.
The dream that never happened.
Each night, as we sleep, we take our memories from the day and reprocess them into long term memory. This happens via the rapid eye movement of REM sleep (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, and is the deep, dreamless stage of sleep). REM takes the memories from our cortex and moves them to the limbic brain, where they reside as long term, less impactful memories.
Traumatic events do not integrate in this way. They remain closer to our minds: more impactful, as they refuse to go to the long term memory. This is what leads to the feeling of reliving the event, of life-like flashbacks, visual and auditory hallucinations or embodied experiences of the frightening memories. The events stay up close and intense, as if we are still right there with them.
The person loses the ability to see ‘that was then’ and ‘this is now’. During trauma, the cortex can’t process complex language, so the person experiencing a flashback can’t use the appropriate language to communicate what’s going on to others.
The program that didn’t get to run
As humans we create “programs” that allow us to function with whatever is happening. These programs are created and are the best available at the time. For example, a six year old who suffers an abuse creates a program that helps them to cope and feel as safe as they can inside their environment.
Many years later that program is still running to keep them safe. However the program is out of date. The adult is still using a six year old’s program to guard themselves against an environment that no longer exists. They may avoid powerful people, stay small, do what they’re told, never step out of line, even though it is no longer required of them. They are trying to stay safe and cope with life, using an outdated operating system.
They may still see themselves as “bad” because when they are six, they were unable to understand that bad things can happen to anyone. They would’ve believed that they were bad and wrong, as that is the only thing that would’ve made sense then. As an adult, the old program needs to be re-integrated, or it will continue to run as them, their inherent belief about themselves
We can think of PTSD as the program that didn’t get to run. In the case of a traumatic event, the person may have created a program of panic, of paying attention, or of doing something. Then, as the event ended, that program did not get to complete.
And example is one of my clients, Kate, who was a paramedic for 13 years. Kate created a program of being highly functional, always paying attention, judging her performance harshly, and being emotionless during times of heavy emotion.
Later, two years after resigning, Kate was still trying to hide her grief, stay alert, and be capable. Kate had adopted a negative view of the world, was having difficulty feeling optimistic and held unconscious negative beliefs about herself within the traumatic memories.
Kate was exhausted, and all she longed to do was soften, let go of judgments about her performance as a paramedic and cry all the tears she’d had to hold in over the years. Kate’s programs were out of date. She no longer needed them in her life. We had to integrate the program so she could let them go.
Case Study on EMDR
In order to integrate Kate’s outdated program we did a full day of intensive therapy called EMDR. In our next blog we will be sharing the Kate’s story in greater detail.
Often, we look “upward” for advice and modelling. Yet If we’re open anyone can teach us a lesson. The less privileged man on the street, a neighbour we always thought of as simple, or in my case recently, my own child.
The lesson came packaged up in a playground session, and the teacher was my four year old daughter, who completed the whole length of the monkey bars for the first time.
She didn’t mean to teach me anything, rather she was simply being herself. Lining up behind her big sister, watching carefully as those seven year old arms swung that seven year old body easily from one bar to the next. My four year old’s eyes were intent, her forehead burrowed as she prepared herself to follow.
For the last year she had been attempting to make it to the other side. She’d been watching her older sister, cheering her on and trying, trying, trying, until this day, she finally got it. As I watched the whole thing from beginning to end; the concentration, the determination, and the completion of the goal, the lesson sunk in.
You see, over the last year, my four year old didn’t see someone doing better than her and give up. She didn’t decide that the monkey bars were her sister’s thing and not compete. She watched and she learned. She modelled and practiced and got better until she nailed it.
That day, that made her my hero.
I sometimes look at other professionals in my game – ones who fill the big training rooms and charge the megabucks and command the highest paying high profile clients– and I think, “It’d take me forever to get to that point”.
In these moments I forget how far I have come. I run my own business, I have other therapists that work with me, I have my own premises with it’s own staff. I run regular training events in my area and even if they’re not huge, they’re always a success.
That day, watching my daughter, it hit me. Next time, I might just model my youngest child.
I’ll see someone doing something I don’t think I can do yet and I’ll cheer for them.
I’ll watch and I’ll have a go.
I’ll practice and remain focused and determined, progressing in increments when time allows (we’re not always at the park after all).
It’s not like her path across the monkey bars was completely easy. There were times that she let go and started again deliberately, because of some factor unseen to others. She didn’t give herself a hard time, didn’t call herself a failure and walk away. She just knew she needed a rest, so she could get back up there and go again.
Next time, I’ll do that.
What my daughter taught me that day is that we always have a choice. We can either use our observations of others to measure ourselves against, comparing and diminishing what we are capable of. Once we’ve made our measurement, we can believe we’ll never make it to that level. We can decide we’re lesser than them. We can let ourselves be consumed with jealousy or feelings of unworthiness. We can give up and walk away.
Or, we can use our observations of others to motivate us. We can learn from them, watching closely how they do it, with the assumption that we’re getting there too, someday. We can model their behaviour, cheering them on as we go, knowing that we’ll all arrive eventually too, with effort.
In sharing this story with you, I hope to inspire you to ask these powerful questions of yourself: How are you comparing yourself to others? How do you feel discouraged by the success of those around you? Can you be encouraged instead? Determined? Patient? How can you believe that with effort, and encouragement, you will get there too?
Perhaps, we can be open to letting everyone be our hero. Watching closely and learning from even the most unexpected sources. Observing those who are great, and those who are still small. Watching for the lessons, the inspiration, and the motivation to get yourself across any gap. One day, if you just keep going, you’ll get there. That’s what my beautiful four year old taught me that day.
My daughter, my hero.
When someone takes their own life, the questions they leave behind are usually the same. Why did they do it? What were they thinking? Could I have stopped them?
Perhaps, you know the answers to these questions: Have sat inside your vehicle on a quiet night and thought the world will be better off without you in it. Maybe the thought of waking up to one more day of your private hell felt like too much.
Today, we’re going to explore why someone wants to take their life. We’ll talk about the three levels of suicidal ideation, and offer a place to go if you, or someone you love, is suicidal.
There are a few things to think about when it comes to suicide:
1. It’s permanent
People end their lives for one simple reason. They lose sight of the fact that a feeling is temporary. If I asked you, “Do all things change?” you would likely answer yes, because upon examination, we all know this to be true. Yet, in the moment of suicide, the person believes that their depression, hopelessness, despair, or frustration will never go away. They believe that there is no end to the hardship, that nothing will get better, ever. Completely overwhelmed by what they feel, by the unending nature of it, it makes sense to end their life.
All things change. In buddhism, the term impermanence is used to describe the changing nature of all phenomena. It is a law: nothing is permanent. The downside of this law is that joy, love, sunshine and pleasure will inevitably pass. But it’s opposite, the flip side of the coin, is that sorrow, hate, darkness and pain will also pass. When looked at this way, we can see that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
2. Expectation isn’t reality
Have you heard the saying: happiness = reality – expectations. If you haven’t, read it again and let it sink in. We all have so many ideas of perfection ingrained in us from relentless propaganda. Television shows, commercials and magazines painting pictures of the perfect family. They paint easily resolved disagreements and vomit inducing happy endings. It’s all supposed to be so perfect isn’t it? And now we have social media, where most people chose to share only the joys, but never the sorrow.
The result is a cumulative expectation around how life, and the state of your mental health should be. You feel isolated and alone in your misery. But should doesn’t matter, what matter’s is what IS. As a therapist, let me tell you: most people aren’t always happy. Far more likely is that each of us have complex relationships, ongoing financial trouble, work challenges, and disappointing personal characteristics. Most of us wish we were somehow better. Most of us feel just as sad as we do joyful. And, because we share a common illusion that we’re always supposed to be happy, we become isolated and depressed.
It’s not an accident that we’re talking about suicide right now in the lead up to Christmas. There’s no greater time where our expectations are sky rocketing past reality. We’re hoping for postcard interactions with our families, but in reality the people we say we love disappoint us, hurt us, or trigger our wounded inner child. We hurt them, or fall into patterns of people pleasing or walking on eggshells. We overspend, causing insane stress all in the name of meeting the societal expectation for presents. We also tend to evaluate our life more, comparing who we are to who we thought we would be.
We have to be ok with what is. Every morning, my house is so disheveled, it looks like it’s been burgled. Sure, I’d love to have a perfect house. But I don’t. Instead, I have a good family. After I’ve worked all day on maintaining healthy relationships, I don’t have the time to work on the house. In accepting what is, instead of wishing it were different, I can be at peace.
3. Pride equals hell on earth
Many who plan to take their lives exist in a private hell, where they believe that no one can truly understands what they are going through. Yet, for most men who report being suicidal, their last option is to break down and tell their loved one’s what is happening for them. When asked why, most would tell you, “Pride”. To show emotion, to break down, is to do the worst thing of all: to be weak. Male suicide rates in Australia are staggering, and suicide is the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 45, with three times as many men than women taking their lives. (source: lifeline)
Unwilling to reach out to those around them, the person may feel like no one cares whether they live or die. They may become spiteful, angry, and convince themselves that the world is better off without them in it. If you find yourself thinking these kinds of things: they’re the biggest delusion of all. The world does want you in it: and your loved ones want nothing more than to help you.
The three levels
If you suspect someone is suicidal. Ask. If you can, find out where they are:
1. They are having fleeting thoughts about it. This is actually more normal than most people think: this is when someone is driving along and a semi trailer comes by and they think something like: I could swerve right out in front of it. Often, these thoughts are impulsive, and impulsive thoughts are driven by alcohol, substances, or extreme emotion.
2. The thoughts are beginning to take root. This is more likely to happen when you’re sober, yet the thoughts are becoming stable. It’s more than just at the height of emotion or when intoxicated. They’re beginning to think about it as a real possibility.
3. They have a plan. A plan is when they’ve put a strategy into place for how they intend to follow through. This stage requires immediate intervention.What do you do?
This Christmas, be on the lookout for anyone who appears to be managing a low mood. The extra financial pressure, unrealistic expectations, childhood triggers, and excess alcohol consumption can cause the kind of impulsivity that leads to spontaneous suicide. Don’t assume any one leaving an argument will be fine.
Tell your loved one’s how valuable they are the you, especially if you suspect they are down. A person who has a plan may do anything to cover it up, and may not tell you: but small powerful words of love and acceptance can unknowingly change a persons mind.
If you think someone is in trouble, seek assistance through a helpline, your local hospital or trusted therapist. If things seem like they’re escalating, don’t be afraid to call 000. Ambulance and police are experienced in handling such matters. If you are managing your own low mood, or find yourself having thoughts that take root, reach out to a professional.
Above all else, take good-will into your holiday season. You never know when your kindness could save a life.
The Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
The suicide call back service is an incredible way to get assistance. If you call their toll free number, they will ring you back, for 5 sessions free of charge, anytime of day or night.