Truth Joy Beauty

Just my thoughts and reflections about living and loving in the post-post modern age.

Archive for the category “Philosophy & Therapy”

Why more rentals should be pet friendly

When my partner and I first decided to finally move in together – we both lived in teeny tiny studio apartments, (which by Sydney’s inner west standards were quite spacious, I have since discovered) but certainly not suitable for two people, plus one Chihuahua and one cat (breed unknown) – we found it difficult, to say the least, to find a pet friendly rental in Sydney’s inner west. Something which may be surprising to some as anyone who has lived in the inner west knows, there seem to be more dogs than people! I am pretty sure that not everyone with a pooch  owns their own property so surely these numbers don’t add up?

In any case, it took us many weeks of looking to finally find a place that allowed pets. Note, if a property was advertised as NO PETS then we didn’t bother applying of course, but many don’t specify whether they are pet friendly so it is quite disheartening to find something reasonable that you like, only to be told either at the inspection or by telephone, Sorry the owner won’t allow pets. In many cases, even if the real estate agents say, Pets will be considered on application, you get no response at all to your application or an email simply stating your application was unsuccessful. Both my partner and I work, have a good rental history so I can only put it down to, what I call, The Pet Factor. Another factor I admit was that due to our budget and the ridiculously high cost of rent in inner Sydney, the properties we were looking at were mostly apartments or houses that had been split into apartments. I do understand that it is easier to find a pet friendly house as a rental but our budget simply wouldn’t allow for that.

My dog at the time was 10 years old and had spent most of his adult life living indoors. He gets walked twice a day and is quite content to just snore away in his little bed (or practically on top of the heater when it’s on) the rest of the time. Plus, he is a Chihuahua. The most apartment friendly dog you could ask for.

Over the years of renting in Sydney’s inner west I have always found it challenging to to find a rental. It is always a source of great stress and anxiety. At times, due to time pressure and the need to find something asap I have neglected to even mention that I have a dog and have gotten away with in on almost every occasion but one. Then I was asked to leave or give my dog away! As if. I’d rather live in a tent thank you very much.  In fact, many homeless people end up that way, partly as a result of having to give up their pets in order to access emergency housing. Many would rather risk life on the street than part with their animals. This to me illustrates how important animals are to our mental, emotional and spiritual well being. A fact that I can attest to from personal experience.

When I left a previous abusive relationship, and found myself alone in a different state and thousands of miles away from friends and family, it was my dog (the same one I mentioned earlier) that made all the difference to my mental health at the time. I know, for a fact that if I had not had his little, warm body sleeping on my bed, I would have felt a lot less safer and a whole lot more alone. And, if I had not had his little face looking up at me each morning, sometimes walking up onto my chest and staring right in my face with his big brown eyes silently yet intently imploring me to get up and take him for a walk, I would have stayed in bed a whole lot more. I would have given into the waves of depression that threatened to engulf me constantly during those dark days. Quite simply, in many ways, I owe my dog my life. He was the one thing that kept me going, getting on with things, got me out of the house and he always made me smile, somehow.

My dog was the one source of unwavering, unconditional love that was a candle in the dark that I will always be grateful for. He is gone now (passed away from a heart condition, ironically, in January 2016) but I will always have the deepest gratitude for his presence in my life.

This is why I implore landlords to reconsider their stance on pets. Pets do as much damage as children in many cases, but no-one would dare have a ‘no kids’ policy attached to their rental. I have personally looked at rentals that are still occupied where kids have lived there and the places always, like their parents, generally look a little beaten up. If anything, a ‘pet damage’ clause is something most tenants would be happy to sign. If my pet damages it, like anything else in a property, I would be more than happy to pay for it to be repaired.

Pets add so much value to our wellbeing that it is time to recognize that and place a little more value on humanity than the purely economic factors of property ownership as a growing number of studies are attesting to.

Lyon the Chihuahua

Good moaning!

 

 

If you want something to change

image

When working with persons who are struggling with any mental health or emotional issue, it is interesting to note how attached people become to the behaviours, beliefs and/or relationships that are the main cause of their difficulties and the reason for their appearance in the consulting room.

This is not surprising, in psychology, defensive behaviours such as addiction, depression, anxiety and related safety behaviours become so entrenched because at one time, for all intents  and purposes, these behaviours worked to relieve some psychological pressure that was unmanageable to the person at the time.

I still find it challenging when a client shows resistance to any suggestion that they change something they are doing in order to work towards their stated therapeutic goal, whatever that goal might be. Often, even after going through workability (what have you done so far, how has it worked for you, what has it cost you?) I find that clients are still reluctant to alter damaging behaviours even at the cost of health, valued relationships, money, time, goals etc.

They cling to their behaviours like a child might cling to a parent, even when that parent may also be the cause of suffering and pain.

Attachments can form in the most unlikely circumstances, such is our desire for connection and love. We will often put up with a lot of discontent in order to maintain the most tenuous connection to those, or that which we are attached to.

So the anguish this conundrum causes people is palpable and sometimes heartbreaking to watch.  But reality has a way of exerting itself in a variety of ways, and eventually the breakthrough realisation is as simple as knowing that, in the most fundamental way action needs to happen in order for change to occur. In other words, if you want something to change, you need to change something, no matter how small.

 

 

Five ways to stop comparing and start sharing

Ever find yourself silently comparing yourself to other people and coming up short? Ever notice how this makes you feel? I bet it doesn’t make you feel better about yourself at all, I bet it just makes you feel worse the more you do it. In-fact, comparing yourself constantly to others tends to bring you down as you find yourself constantly repeating the “I’m not good enough” story, over and over again.

Comparing yourself to others and feeling bad about it only serves to disempower you, and stops you from sharing your unique gifts and talents with others and the world. So here’s a quick how to guide to help you stop comparing and start sharing your unique and valuable self today!

1.   becoming aware of your comparing ways

The first step to overcoming the compare and contrast blues is to recognize when you are doing it and what you are telling yourself. Remembering that it is entirely natural for humans to compare ourselves with others, (it’s something that our minds instinctively do) but allowing this natural process to overwhelm you with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy doesn’t help you to be the best person you can be. Next time you find your mind telling you the same old “I’m not good enough” story just remember to thank your mind, and simply take a deep breath and let it go. Sometimes just doing that is enough to dispel the bad feelings that come with the “I’m not good enough” story.

2.   focus on what you’ve got instead of what’s not

If step one doesn’t work then it’s time to remind yourself of what you have got, instead of those skills or attributes that you don’t have. Focus on what you can do, for others if not yourself. Ask yourself, what’s in your power to contribute. Take the focus off what or where you are lacking, just for a moment, and bring your attention to those things that can help or make a difference. Give yourself a mantra to say to yourself when you catch yourself comparing and contrasting yourself in a negative light. For example: Comparing is a pointless exercise, everyone’s journey is different and unique.

3.   take a wider view

Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s story is unique and private. What you see is often only the surface, you never know how someone is really feeling, or what is happening for them or what they’ve experienced. So even if some people may appear to have it easier than you, or have a better life, appearance or talent, never assume that they are coasting through life without a care in the world. Remember, there may be others that look at what you’ve got and envy you! You might live in a nice house with a caring family, or getting good marks might come easy to you when someone else has to struggle just to pass! If you are too busy comparing yourself to others and feeling down about it, chances are you’ll miss out on chances to feel good about yourself, by being grateful for what you have got….which brings me to my next tip!

4.   practice gratitude daily

Focusing on how you don’t measure up compared to someone else, even if that someone else is just a composite of all the someone else’s you may know in one, is definitely a recipe for misery casserole! An antidote to the comparison blues is to start a daily gratitude practice. Every night before you go to sleep, mentally name and list 5 things that happened that day or that you noticed that made you feel grateful in some way. If you like you can start a ‘gratitude diary’ and write them down. That way, you can look back at it from time to time and build a gratitude resource that you can draw from whenever you want. Remembering to remember the things in our life that we are grateful for is a good habit to get into if you want to increase your overall feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

5.   limit social media

There’s nothing as encouraging of your comparison demons to come out and have a good old play around with your mood quite like scrolling through your social media feed, especially when you are feeling particularly vulnerable. If you find that spending too much time on social media is causing you to feel anxious, depressed, blue or just plain bad then don’t. do. it. Limit your access to social media and if you must have a peek take everything you see there with tip two in mind: remember that what you see (especially on social media) is only a heavily edited version of what real life is like for an individual. It’s certainly only a fragment of reality at best. People who are truly happy and content with themselves and their lives are generally too busy living their life to spend too much time on social media sites anyway. Don’t believe the hype.

There you are. Five simple ways to help yourself to be the best self you can be. Last of all, being happy with yourself often comes when you stop focusing on yourself in general and look outward at the world and the people around you with compassion, empathy and without judgement. Really appreciating that we are all essentially in this together, and that we all have our own individual and internal struggles is really the best way to start to feel better about yourself.

 

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.” ― Mark Twain

A guided meditation for when you’re sick of all the b*******t!

So where ARE the counselling jobs for counselling graduates?

A couple of months ago I finally completed my graduate diploma in counselling. After three and a half long years of sacrifice, studying part-time while working full-time I find that many of the roles which have the word ‘counsellor’ in the title, don’t actually ask for specific counselling qualifications. More-so, many ask for social work qualifications, which I know can include counselling as a subject, but not necessarily. So, if a role is advertised as a counselling role, why ask for a social work qualification? Asking for a psychology degree seems to make more sense, however, even psychology degrees don’t have counselling specific subjects.

Below is an example from the Sydney Universisty Post Graduate Diploma course outline:

GRADUATE DIPLOMA IN PSYCHOLOGY – POSSIBLE STUDY PLAN A
Semester 1 Year 1 PSYC2011 Brain and Behaviour *
PSYC2012 Statistics and Research Methods for Psychology *
Semester 2 Year 1 PSYC2013 Cognitive and Social Psychology *
PSYC2014 Personality and Intelligence I *
Semester 1 Year 2 PSYC3018 Abnormal Psychology *
Plus one of the following:
HPSC3023 History and Philosophy of Psychology & Psychiatry **
PSYC3011 Learning and Behaviour
PSYC3012 Cognition, Language and Thought
PSYC3015 Personality and Intelligence II
PSYC3017 Social Psychology
Semester 2 Year 2 Any 2 of the following:
PSYC3010 Advanced Statistics for Psychology ***
PSYC3013 Perceptual Systems
PSYC3014 Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience
PSYC3016 Developmental Psychology
PSYC3020 Applications of Psychological Science

As you can see, there are no counselling specific subjects. Also, no pracitcal counselling requirements. I’d like to contrast that with the course I did, the Graduate Diploma in Counselling at ACAP (Australian College of Applied Psychology):

Graduate Diploma of Counselling (GradDipCouns)(Re-accredited)

Year 1

1.  COUN5131 Counselling Practice

2.  COUN5141 Counselling Theories

3.  COUN5151 Cross Cultural Counselling

4.  COUN5161 Counselling Over the Lifespan

5.  COUN5171 Ethical Decision Making

6.  Elective

Year 2

7.  COUN5201 Counselling Skills and Models

8.  COUN5211 Grief Counselling

9.  COUN5221 Mental Health Practice

10. COUN5231 Field Placement and Supervision 1

11. COUN5241 Field Placement and Supervision 2
12. Elective

Electives – choose two

COUN5801 Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselling
COUN5811 Narrative Therapy
COUN5821 Creative Therapies
COUN5831 Groupwork Theory and Practice
COUN5841 Family Counselling
COUN5851 Trauma Counselling

As you can see, most of the subjects are counselling related and counselling specific.

As an employer, if I was recruiting for a counselling position, then it would make the most sense to ask for a counselling specific qualification, however this is not happening as far as I can tell. I have called up advertisers of these sorts of roles and asked, why are they not asking for a specific counselling qualificaton for this counselling position and have been met with little more than defensive or ignorant responses. Clearly the question makes them uncomfortable. To be fair, some have said, yes a post graduate diploma in counselling will be considered…but my question is then, why not state that in the ad? At the very least, from what I have gleaned so far, there seems to be little knowledge in the community services sector about the difference between a counselling qualification, pyschology and social work. My suspicions were confirmed depressingly when I came across this article written by a counselling educator at UWS: Where are the jobs for our graduates? (This blog post is kind of a response to this article). I say depressingly because the Google search term I used which delivered this article, (third result from the top) was “gradaute jobs counselling”.

So after spending the last three years studying I can honestly say this article was a low point. As someone who also has a Bachelor of Arts and a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism, I can tell you the ACAP Grad Dip Counselling is not an easy course, not academically nor practically. If I wanted to be a researcher, then yes, a psychology qualification would be most appropriate, (and to be honest, it sounds really interesting so as a glutton for punishment perhaps, I am acutally considering it!) If I was interested in social justice then a social work degree would be the right qualification to have.

But I see myself, quite specifically as a counsellor. Someone that wants to work one on one, or in small groups with people who need the sort of help only a therapeutic counselling relationship can offer. I strongly feel this is where my particular skills are best suited.

So, why is it so difficult to find a counselling role that asks for counselling qualifications? Clearly, more work needs to be done by our governing body, PACFA (The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) and educational institutions, such as ACAP, to educate the sector and government about the differences between these three different occupations.

The fact that Medicare does not cover counselling does not help. At the moment, if you have a social work degree which included counselling as s subject then you may be eligble to apply for a Medicare rebate number (although I have heard through the grape-vine that this is changing.) Still, most private health care funds will cover pyschology, but not counselling. Somewhat surprisingly, most will also cover alternative therapies (such as aromatherapy, massage etc) as well, but only Medibank Private offers a rebate for counselling services.

The situation is very disheartening and frustrating for counselling graduates, such as myself. However, there is more than one set path to achieve any goal and that is why I am considering going straight into private practice if I can’t get a counselling position. Because, not only are there not as many positions vacant that ask for counselling qualifications, when they do they also ask for a ‘minimum of 2 years experience’, the conundrum faced by many graduates.

So, it was not my initial intention, as I had hoped to get a few years experience working for a not for profit or in the mental health sector, but as my very supportive partner has said to me, why not try it?  What have you got to lose?

And then, yesterday, I came across this quote which has inspired me so I’d like to share it with you:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

William Hutchison Murray

Porn addiction – it’s not just you. Truth, reality and hope for addicts and partners.

About a year ago, I wrote a serious article with a slightly tongue in cheek heading called  Is internet porn the beginning of the end for the human race?  Now while I admit, I may have been exaggerating slightly, the premise of the article was clearly not entirely without justification. It may seem a little farfetched but if, as I saw tonight while out at dinner, parents are using screens to placate/regulate a child’s behaviour out in public then what does that mean for that child and their ability to engage with other humans later in life? What happens when as a culture, we are more comfortable relating to a screen or another human being through the medium of a screen than we are when faced with a flesh and blood human. One that you can’t simply swipe away when convenient?

How does this relate to porn addiction? Well for many years the debate on porn was centred around the notion that succumbing to the temptation of porn signified some kind of moral failing. From a religious/Christian point of view, it was a question of sinfulness.  A sign that one has allowed oneself to become infected with one or more of the seven supposed deadliest of sins, lust and/or gluttony. Or, from a feminist point of view, porn is seen as the vile exploitation of women as sexual, one dimensional objects with no humanity other than form. Yet as Naomi Wolf points out in her article, The Porn Myth in actuality, the end result of too much exposure to pornography has had the effect, not of turning men into sexually ravenous beasts, but the complete opposite; sexual and emotional anorexics who can no longer relate authentically to a real life woman or get aroused by one. As it turns out, excessive viewing of pornography in this digital age turns men off, not on.

As numerous studies now show, repetitive and compulsive viewing of internet porn by men, (and a growing number of women) induces the opposite effect than one might expect, and just like a person who is addicted to a substance grows increasingly desensitized to the drug whilst continuing to crave it more and more, a person who is addicted to pornography finds he/she ends up on pretty much the same, well trodden treadmill. Intensely wanting something that can no longer provide the temporary relief and stimulation it once did.

Recent research implies that internet pornography is as addictive as certain drugs and affects the brain the same way. But, porn’s special hook is that it taps into that human need for attachment, connection and belonging even more than addictive substances by adding into the mix hormones that are normally associated with bonding, love and connection. In effect, a porn addict becomes more attached to porn than anything or anyone else in their life. As a consequence, relationships, marriages, work and soon enough, the relationship with the self begins to suffer.

Porn addiction, like any addiction goes through stages – however, unlike most other addictions, the physical effects of porn addiction are virtually invisible, and the psychological and emotional effects are quite subtle, at first. In-fact, many porn addicts may seek treatment of a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, as well as physical ailments, stress, other addictions and finally sexual performance before anyone thinks to ask about their porn viewing habits.

But more and more studies clearly link issues related to sexual performance, including as I mention in my previous post, erectile dysfunction in men in their late teens and early twenties, (something that was almost unheard of 10 – 15 years ago) back to extensive viewing of internet porn. It is only when they can no longer get an erection, or ejaculate even with porn that some men start to make the connection between their excessive viewing of porn and other issues in their life. Often this is the only thing that eventually get’s their attention. (Their partners, if they have partners, may have known for some time that something was happening, or rather…not happening!)

This sorry state of affairs is bad news for both porn addicts and partners of porn/sex addicts. Many who spend night after night lying in bed next to a partner that never seems to be ‘in the mood’ for sex. The result can be devastating to marriages, relationships and the self-esteem to both parties. The secretive nature of most men’s porn addiction may also mean that some partners may not know that they are in a relationship with a porn addict or even if they are aware of their partner’s porn habit, they may not make the connection at first either. Or they may not know the extent of their partner’s porn viewing. The damage this causes relationships is thus far unmeasurable.  One site states that 56% of divorces in the U.S. involve one party having an obsessive interest in pornography among other staggering statistics.

So, is the news all bad? Well, no. Latest brain research shows that the brain is actually very flexible, and  malleable, kind of like plasticine. In-fact the term for the way the brain can change itself, based on what is experienced is called neuroplasticity. This is good news. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the same way you get yourself into a sticky situation is largely the same way to get yourself out of it. While the allure of internet porn may have lost its charm many clicks ago, the habit that it has created will be hard to break. Hard, but not impossible. For men who have lost the ability to relate to women, emotionally and physically, and for partners of addicts there seems little alternative, other than to dissolve the relationship, which let’s face it, is fairly likely. It can’t be much fun to be in a relationship with a porn addict. However, chances are that if you leave a relationship with one porn addict, you are more than likely to run into another just as addicted, or on his way to being so, seeing as in America at least, sex addiction (which porn addiction is a form of) has reached epidemic status, according to this 2011 News Week article.

So, how do you beat a porn addiction and reverse its affects on the brain? Well the answer is simple, if not easy and this is simply to stop it. Stop all contact with porn and masturbating to porn and give your brain a chance to rewire itself and re-learn, or rediscover what comes naturally.

That is the only solution. I did say it was simple, but not easy. Recovering from porn addiction (for addicts and/or partners) takes time, courage and commitment and it is not easy to do without support. There are some very good websites now that can assist, (which I shall list below in the resources) but the assistance of a therapist who is aware of the nature of porn and sex addiction, one who will take it seriously can be fundamental to long lasting recovery. At least, having a close friend or understanding partner (if that is possible) that you know and trust is also important. The reason being that porn and sex addiction most likely mask other issues. Issues such as fear of intimacy, abandonment fears, attachment disorders, and perhaps even trauma. Once the defence of porn has left the building, then there is nothing to protect your unconscious and chances are some deeply buried emotional wounds may re-open.

It’s important to be aware of this possibility as many who try to ‘re-boot’ as it is called on websites such as Your Brain on Porn and Fight the New Drug often try many times and fail because they are inadequately prepared or lack support.

If you are experiencing porn addiction or are the partner of a porn addict, seek help from a qualified therapist and/or see some of the websites listed below for more information.

SOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/
http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/#sthash.ubb4Ty3m.dpbs
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/
http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/05/the-prevalence-of-porn/
http://yourbrainonporn.com/cambridge-university-brain-scans-find-porn-addiction
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125382361
http://newsok.com/the-five-stages-of-pornography-addiction/article/5407775/?page=2
http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/index1.html
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/13/a-letter-to-my-ex-husband-who-preferred-pornography-to-me
http://www.newsweek.com/sex-addiction-epidemic-66289
http://globalchristiancenter.com/mens/overcoming-temptations/16765-pornography-in-the-church-a-new-epidemic
https://www.lds.org/tools/print/article/narrow/?lang=eng&url=/topics/pornography/audiences/youth/teenagers-and-pornography-addiction-treating-the-silent-epidemic
RESOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/ (Internet filtering service)
http://yourbrainonporn.com/
http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/
http://www.posarc.com/ (Partners of sex addicts resource center)

Yoga for stress reduction & anxiety

Yoga is one of those things I’ve dabbled in on and off since I can remember. It is something I do for a while, and while I’m doing it I love and really enjoy the benefits of, but then for some reason or another I just stop. And then, after a while I start to feel crap again, disconnected with myself, tense etc and then I remember…oh yeah! Maybe I should do a yoga class.

Since I’ve discovered the benefits of mindfulness practice, this has bought a whole new dimension to my understanding and appreciation of yoga. There is really no better way to connect the mind with the body than to connect the breath with movement. Yoga really is mindfulness in action.

So, having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find this infographic appear in my inbox this morning from the wonderful people at Happify.  It’s an infographic of 7 yoga inspired breathing exercises and poses to instantly destress any time of the day. And you don’t have to be a yogi to do any of the poses, as they are very simple. This is something I am definitely going to be sharing with my anxiety clients so I just wanted to share it here with you’all.

Here you are:

7 yoga poses for stress reductionOh.. and if you want to get into yoga again in the comfort of your own home none the less, I really recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s YouTube channel. She has heaps of yoga videos for whatever mood you happen to be in, and if you really want kick start your yoga journey, I highly recommend taking her 30 days of yoga challenge.

Namaste y’all for now!

What I’ve learned about anxiety from a bunch of anxious peeps

I’ve just finished co-facilitating two rounds of a 12 week therapy group aimed at helping anxiety sufferers conquer their fears. The ‘self help’ group, as it is called, is basically an exposure based 12 week program which encourages members to face their fears by gradually ‘exposing’ themselves to the source of their anxiety bit by bit. It’s called the stepladder approach and is based on basic behaviour therapy.

The aim of the group is to guide members, after explaining what exposure is and how to construct a stepladder, towards conquering specific fears or phobias. It’s not really structured for those who are diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), PSTD or depression for example. There is only so much you can do in a group context. That was the theory behind the group, however, the reality proved quite different. We had a few members that had a specific phobia or fear such as public speaking, or a specific social phobia such as fear of eating in public, but most of the members’ anxiety was not that specific. Most seemed to be suffering from a general malaise and in some cases extreme uneasiness in public, social phobia in general or just a case of debilitating shyness. Some had depression as well.

It soon became clear that the prescribed ‘stepladder’ technique was not going to work with these people. One could still go over the basic idea of the stepladder, that is, expose yourself to your fears, little by little. Take baby steps. But a definitely rigid approach was not going to do. So, I did some research and also, concurrently, I started an online course on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) but mostly, I learned from the group members themselves. Hearing their stories week by week, their awkward to embarrassing moments, their small and seemingly meager triumphs and major breakthroughs…they taught me more about how to manage this thing called anxiety which we are all faced with to some degree, than any text book or peer reviewed article I have read.

So here’s what I learned about how best to deal with anxiety from my research and from those that know best:

1. Accept anxiety as part of life. Most people who come to a group such as the one I have just described have been struggling with anxiety for a long time before seeking help. Some for years. What they want most when they first come to the group or seek help is for a ‘cure’ that will somehow make their anxiety ‘go away’. But what is most freeing or a revelation for some is when we explain that anxiety is a normal part of being human, and that it will always be present to some degree. Struggling with it only makes it seem stronger and bigger than it really is, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away either… However, acceptance of anxiety is something altogether different. Acceptance allows for dialogue, it allows for a two-way exchange between the person suffering from anxiety and the message that anxiety is trying to convey. It is the first step towards healing, it signifies a willing to listen, to engage.

2. Face and then embrace your fears. Whatever it is that makes you most anxious, that is where you need to start.  Jumping in head first is not a good idea, however a measured, stepladder if you will, approach really does work if done consciously, with self-awareness and with self-compassion. A step is still a step, no matter how small….however, there is a qualifier and the qualifier is as follows:

2a. Face your fears, only if they serve your greater good. That is, face and accept anxiety only if it serves your values. There is no point putting yourself through all that pain and anxiety for no good reason, if it serves you however, and helps you to achieve your goals or be the person you really want to be, then there is a very good reason.

3. Know your values. One session, after learning about the importance of values in ACT I asked the group members to share with me their reasons for coming to group in the first place. They looked at me blankly at first, as if it was a silly question but then I explained… Yes, I know it’s because you wanted to get help with managing your anxiety but WHY? Why does that matter to you? Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay home, live with your anxiety to a degree and not push yourself to come here, or go on working through your stepladders each week? There is a reason why you do that, come to group each week, something you want to achieve or a way you’d like to live, and that reason should give you a big hint as to what your values are. Values guided action makes anxiety meaningful. It adds another, very powerful dimension to the how of exposure based therapy. The why.

4. Listen to what your anxiety is trying to tell you. Anxiety is not always blind fear and anxiety is not a one size fits all broadcast. There are different types of anxiety. There is helpful anxiety and not so helpful anxiety. Sometimes, it is steering you towards something, sometimes it is telling you your off track. There is the anxiety that comes with moving forward, and the anxiety that comes with staying stuck. Only the individual can know what their anxiety means to them, or what it is trying to say. Mindfulness is one way of getting tuned in to what your anxiety is trying to tell you by displacing some of the static that most of us walk around with every day, without realizing it most of the time.

5. You are what you do most. All the skills and techniques broached in the 12 week course (and in most CBT based therapies including ACT) are all pretty sound, yet none of them will work if we only pay lip-service to them. There is no magic pill or cure for anxiety or any other mental illness. Medication helps to a degree but it really only treats the symptoms, or helps with balancing out chemicals that have become imbalanced in the first place because of what the individual has experienced, reacted to and consequently how they have been behaving for many years. It takes dedication, practice and conscious choice to over-ride what have become automatic behaviours or ways of responding for many anxiety sufferers. The more you practice these new behaviours, thoughts, techniques and ways of being, the more they will seem natural.

 

So that’s pretty much it. (Well not really it, but a sizeable chunk, and besides, I’m getting sleepy!)

All good things take a little time, but like all good things, they are truly worth it in the end. As has been my journey towards becoming a qualified counsellor…it’s been a long 3 and a half years and in a few weeks I will be done with this first long stretch of road. Yes, in just a few weeks I will be qualified! However, while I feel I have learned so much, it gives me a certain amount of anxiety to realize that I have still sooo much more to learn. But, I’m pretty sure it’s the good sort of anxiety…

Impermanence

I used to write a lot of poetry. Especially in my angsty late teens and early 20s. (Those that know me won’t be surprised to hear this.) Somewhere, there is a folder containing all those old poems, some on loose bits of paper, napkins, wrappers etc. Some torn out of the pages of whatever notebook I carried around with me at the time. I always had a notebook and pen with me wherever I went. Most were typed on an actual typewriter. (Yep, I’m that old). How I sometimes miss that clack, clack sound. (I don’t miss making a mistake and ripping the page out in frustration to start all over again though!)

Sometimes, at random times, some lines come back to me from poems I’d written so long ago. Lines that have stuck with me for some reason, for example this one:

Where are you my love that will understand me, not just for my hair, my skin and my teeth?

You don’t fucking exist. It’s me, all alone. I don’t need anyone. I couldn’t care less. 

I wrote that when I was 19. Teenage angst much? Yeah, well. I also wore a lot of black at the time… I remember that line because for me it was triumph of independence and powerful rage. And so, so transparent in its ache for just the opposite. Of course I cared. I cared a lot. Of course I needed love and connection, we all do.

Another line of poetry that sometimes floats back at me, is this:

Constant flux. Constant. Flux.

Is all we can rely on. 

That was the last two lines of a longer poem which I can’t recall right now. But, I marvel at my insight. I think I was 17 when I wrote that. And it came back to me the other day when I was having a conversation with someone who said, and I am paraphrasing here but it went something like this:

“At the heart of it all I think is a desire for permanence, for certainty. Everything changes, and can change in an instant. Nothing lasts forever, and you can’t really rely on someone to be there for you because from one day to another, everything can change. I find it hard to go all in because….well, what’s the point? At one point or another, you’re gonna get hurt.”

There-in lies one of the great existential challenges that we all face as humans on this small, blue planet that we call Earth. Nothing lasts, everything changes. Impermanence is built into the nature of existence. Yet, we try and resist this essential quality of being with all our might. We resist loving completely because, we will – not may, WILL lose that love one day. It’s inevitable.

Buddhism has a name for this. It is called Annica, and is considered one of the three basic facts of existence. The other two are suffering (Dukkha) and non-self (Anatta). The last one is kind of hard to define and calls for a whole other post, and more so let’s just leave it alone for now.

But, and perhaps the one thing that I wish I had said to my friend, because at the time I didn’t say much. Or what I did say didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, and it’s been playing on my mind. What I wish I had said was this,

What’s the point?
What’s the point of loving or giving yourself completely to another human being, a cause, a passion or an animal even? When there is no guarantee that those things will last? Well, that is the point. That is precisely the point.

Revisiting Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability

This morning I felt in necessary for some weird reason to re-visit Brene` Brown’s now infamous talk, The Power of Vulnerability. I first watched it during a week long Counsellor Development Workshop (almost a year ago now) and remember being moved by it then, but I also remember thinking….wow, it took 6 years of research to work out that out? It took 6 years to figure out that you cannot receive the love and connection you want without first allowing yourself to be at risk of losing that love?  But as the talk progresses and Brene` shows her own vulnerability, (which let me tell you is often synonymous with allowing others to see your own faults) you can see why this was the case. Brene` was herself absolutely petrified of being vulnerable. A self confessed control freak that wanted to measure everything, break it down, crack it open and basically, control everything found out, through her own scientific research that basically, you can’t control anything. Not really. Life is not perfect.  To love is to embrace our limitations and imperfections – in ourselves and others. That is what it means to be whole hearted, to live with courage and authenticity. To really connect with others and to be loved as you are in return, imperfect, broken and scared as that may be.

So that being said, I still found myself taking notes because regardless of Brene` personal reaction to the data as she called it, this did not detract from the truth of what she has to say in any way. In-fact it, the hard evidence that her own research uncovered was the cause of her personal breakdown. Revolutions are seldom peaceful.

So, here are my notes from Brene’s “Vunerability Ted” talk – for my own benefit more than anything else, in point form none the less.

  • It starts with connection (or attachment if you like). The ability to connect it’s who we are, and why we are here.
  • Shame thwarts this ability to connect. Shame thwarts intimacy, closeness, love.
  • Shame is the fear of disconnection. “There is something about me that is so terrible that if anyone found this out, it would render me unworthy of love in their eyes.” Or to put it more simply, “I am not worthy of love and affection”.
  • Vulnerability – allowing  yourself to be seen, to be who you are, faults, imperfections, but still and completely lovable.
  • Vulnerability – loving something or someone else with all your heart even when you know there are no guarantees. (How terrifying is that! Pretty terrifying.)
  • The rub – People that have a lot of shame detest the feeling of being vulnerable. Vulnerable to what? Exposure, rejection, exclusion, disconnection. However, in order for connection to happen we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. (Sucks, doesn’t it.)
  • Brene’ really freaked out when she worked out, from all her painstaking hours of gathering qualitative data, that the one thing that separated ‘those’ people, the people who were able to love wholeheartedly and experience true joy, connection and love versus people who wore their shame like armour and therefor where unable to connect boiled down to this: a sense of worthiness.
  • People who have a sense of love, connection and belonging in their lives simply believe they are worthy of love, connection and belonging.
  • People who are able to love this way do so from a place of vulnerability. That is, they love even when they know that their love may not be returned, that love is not perfect, that life can throw you the most horrible curve-balls.
  • Vulnerability involves – Courage, Compassion, Connection.
    • Courage – the courage to be imperfect, to be as you are, to be authentic
    • Compassion – for yourself and then you are able to show kindness and compassion for others.
    • Connection – we arrive at true connection through authenticity. Letting go of who you should be, and embracing who you are.
  • Vulnerability involves risk. It’s saying, “I love you” first, it means possible heartbreak, rejection, loss. It is a form of surrender, allowing your feelings to just exist, to make no apologies for who you are, and for the fact that you feel shit. It involves exposure, being emotionally naked and present with all your glorious faults, mistakes, imperfections and darkness.
  • This next point deserves a block quote:

Our vulnerability lies at the core of our shame, fear and struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love and connection.

  • Why do we struggle so much with being vulnerable? Well the world is full of uncertainty. So we deal with this fear of uncertainty, (existentialism’s void) by numbing ourselves.
  • Rub number 2: You can’t selectively numb emotions. You can’t say, “See this bad stuff, fear, pain, shame, grief, disappointment… well I don’t want to feel that shit so I’m going to damp it down with this (insert numbing device of choice: needle, drink, food, porn, etc) because, when  you numb the bad stuff, you also numb other emotions as well: you numb joy, happiness, gratitude, connection etc.
  • Brene’s final words: We can’t make everything that is uncertain, certain. There are no guarantees, nothing is perfect, we can’t pretend that our feelings don’t exist and that what we do doesn’t affect other people. To love wholeheartedly is the only way to get the love we need. Here are her three suggestions:

Love with all your heart, even though there are no guarantees

Practice gratitude, joy and connection

Believe that  you are worthy of love, just the way you are

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