There is no self love without forgiveness

I recently found a copy of a book that I can honestly say changed my life when I came across it many years ago.

The book is called “You can heal your life,” by Louise Hay.

It was first written in 1984 and has sold more than 40 million copies world wide. 

Louise Hay is known as the ‘queen of self-help’ and was ahead of her time in many ways. She was the first person to popularise the notion that your thoughts and feelings are directly related to your life outcomes. That everything in your life today was created by your thoughts, emotions and actions to date, and furthermore that at this very moment we are creating our future selves by the thoughts, emotions and actions we choose today, moment by moment. I still recommend this book to friends and clients who are struggling with any mental health issue or addiction or who are just going through a rough patch. 

I have had many copies of this book since the first time I read it 10 years ago, I can never seem to hold on to a copy for long. I am forever giving them away but nowadays you can download a copy for very little on Amazon or pick up a copy at most second hand bookshops. That’s where I picked up my latest copy from. 

As I was reading through the first chapter today I was reminded of her core message which is so simple it is often considered overly simplistic to be of any real use to people. I disagree as most truths are simple, it’s our humanity that’s complicated. 

Louise’s basic message is “Love yourself” and everything will fall into place. She states, 

Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes, (p.9).

While this sound simply wonderful and it is, in reality simple does not necessarily mean easy. Whenever I speak to clients of self-love and acceptance I see and hear doubt and resistance. Often they will agree with me in theory but often the how escapes them. How do I love myself? They ask, sometimes with tears in their eyes. 

In her book Louise outlines some clear instructions on what to do to start ‘loving and accepting yourself’. She is a big fan of saying positive affirmations daily as one way to retrain your brain to start thinking in a way that will begin to create the changes you want in your life. Do positive affirmations work? I believe they do, as I have used them in my own life to positive affect. When you learn a little about how the unconscious mind works you can see how if you have been programming your brain with negativity and so creating negative experiences for yourself, it makes sense that changing the internal script by thinking more positively can have the opposite effect.

An example of the above is constantly feeling unloved and misunderstood. This combined with negative self-talk such as “no-one will ever love me”, “I always get abused”, or “everyone always takes advantage of me” will certainly create more of the same. However, when you start choosing more positive thoughts or even more realistic thoughts such as, “I am loved and supported”, or “most people mean well” or even “everyone is doing the best with what they know,” then the script changes. Science now has an explanation for why this works which is called “neuroplasticity” and which I have written about before. However Louise Hay has been saying much the same thing, albeit in much more simplistic and metaphysical terms for decades. 

If affirmations aren’t your thing then there are other ways to love yourself more. One simple thing is to treat yourself well. Put yourself first. Listen to your body. Eat food that nourishes you and is good for you. Care for yourself as you would care for a dear friend. Give yourself a break. Let go of perfectionism. Try to be compassionate to yourself for past mistakes or perceived failings. Be your own best friend. These are all simple but effective ways to care and love yourself more. 

However, there is something else that Louise talks about which is even harder to do than loving yourself and that is forgiveness. She writes, 

We must release the past and forgive everyone, (p.9).

Woah. Hold up a minute there. Everyone? Everyone??

I remember struggling with this one caveat when I first read it 10 years ago and I must admit, I still do. Forgiveness of self and others unfortunately goes hand in hand with self-love and compassion. Until one is willing to forgive or at least release resentment for past wrongs (done to and by you) healing will always be slow going. Like constantly picking at a scab deters the healing process and leads to scars, attempting to love and accept yourself without forgiveness of self and others only slows down the healing process. 

I know this is something you don’t want to hear. Often we hold on to our hurts and resentments like dysfunctional friends whom we no longer even like all that much but can’t bear to cut loose. They are a drag but at least they are company. They keep everyone else away but are always around to light your cigarette, pour you a beer or pass you that tub of ice-cream. Louise says, 

Resentment, criticism and guilt are the most damaging patterns, (p9).

They are the most damaging because they are the most sticky. They like to stick around and feed our bad habits and negativity in order to keep us around. Almost like a codependant relationship. 

The truth is that unless you can kick out those freeloaders, Resentment, Criticism and Guilt and their cohorts Shame, Blame and Anger or at least be willing to let go of them true healing and self love will always feel just out of reach. 

Finally, it is never too late to start making positive changes, or begin to think differently as, 

The point of power is always in the present moment. 

Louise passed away in June 2017 at the age of 90. 

 

 

 

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Learning to thrive. A story of survival

O.K. Here is my story …I’ve procrastinated publishing this long enough. I believe that life is a series of lessons and experiences, the purpose of which is to teach us and progress us spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. This cannot be done without a time set aside for reflection and honest appraisal of what has gone before. I truly believe we attract certain people, experiences and events to ourselves so that we can learn and grow in wisdom, compassion and understanding. For me, real change began when I finally stopped to look back, with curiosity, compassion and non-judgement at why I had allowed certain experiences to happen to me. 

As it happens, I am a survivor of domestic violence.

This happened over 10 years ago and while I have dealt with the trauma and grief a long time ago I have never had the courage to write about it. However, recent events in my life have caused me to reflect on my relationships and past as a whole. I have also recently remarried and while my new husband is not perfect I consider myself blessed and grateful to have found someone so beautiful, supportive and loving to share the rest of my life with. 

Another reason I am sharing this today is that I see the tragedy of violence in my work as a counsellor every day. I see the perpetrators as victims too in a way but women clearly bear the burden of violence in a way that men simply do not. If you are experiencing violence or are simply in an unhealthy relationship at best I hope my story helps you in some way. (See end of post for links to support services in Australia.)

O.K. Here goes. I firstly must point out that often there is an assumption that women who end up in domestic violent situations have a history of bad relationships. It was certainly not true in my case. My father was not an expressive man, emotionally distant yes, but not prone to violence. My first husband was kind and thoughtful. My childhood was largely, thankfully, uneventful. 

I fell in love with my ex pretty much straight away. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen but he also had a very sweet innocence about him which was very endearing and so at odds with the monster he would sometimes become. See, that is the paradox and tragedy of violent relationships. The person you fell in love with is still there somewhere…and it is hard to reconcile that the monster and the man are housed within the same person. 

Within six months we had moved in together. During those early days, there were signs of his potential for violence. We had a few blow-ups, usually over minor things and one time he did get very angry with me simply because I got a parking fine. He followed me around the house, yelling nonsensical abuse at me. I remember nervously laughing at first saying, “Why are you getting so worked up. It’s not like you have to pay the fine!” That just made him angrier. To this day I still don’t know what it was about it that made him so angry. I went to the bathroom in a misguided attempt at removing myself from his anger and to create some space between us, hoping to give him a chance to calm down. When the door was thrust open, narrowly missing slamming into my head, the shock on my face must have finally reached him because he was immediately contrite and he apologised as he helped me up. I had fallen to the floor as I jumped out of the way.

I was shaken at the time but we talked at length about it and he ‘explained’ to me that he just felt that it was ‘unfair’ that I got the fine when we had been working so hard to get ahead. A funny way of expressing sympathy it seemed to me at the time, but I expressed emphatically how inappropriate his behaviour had been and he, of course, apologised profusely and promised that it would never happen again.

Of course it did, but by then we were married. And by the time the realization dawned on me that I had become involved with someone who had serious anger management issues, someone who was unable to control their temper, someone who would lash out at me for seemingly the most trivial things, someone who could go from sweet and loving to uncontrollably violent, seemingly from one moment to the next, I must admit I felt well and truly trapped. Trapped by my own stupidity more than anything else. In a way I did blame myself for the situation I found myself in. It wasn’t that I blamed myself for his behaviour. It was not that I felt that it was something I was doing. I always knew it wasn’t. I knew it was his inability to control his anger that was affecting me and our relationship. That much I understood. But I blamed myself for getting involved in the first place. For not knowing better, for not being able to read the signs or walking away earlier (like life had prepared me for this somehow when I had never experienced anything like it before). I thought this was my bed, my mess and I had to deal with it.

The one aspect of victim blaming that needs to be addressed is blaming yourself for someone else’s reprehensible behaviour. To those who may be going through similar feelings I have one thing to say: It’s not your fault…

Pride, I admit, was a big factor in keeping my worsening situation to myself. People had always thought of me as a smart, independent woman. I had always thought of myself as such. I could scarcely believe that I had ended up in such a shameful, ridiculous situation. This. This is what I left my first husband for? A man who loved me and would do anything for me?? I used to constantly berate myself about it. I began to hate the person I had become.  

I must clarify, I didn’t leave my first husband for this man but I had left my first husband because I wasn’t happy in that marriage, it was less to do with him than it was with me and where I was at.  I wanted to find myself I suppose …that I found myself instead in an intolerable, horrific situation was a source of constant astonishment, pain and finally shame to me. My first husband was a gentle and loving man who did not act in such a violent, seemingly “out of control” manner. I had never met any man like my abuser before. It took me a while to adapt to this new reality. 

The shock of violence is numbing and creates a form of inertia which takes time to recover from.

One trait of some violent men who seem to lack “control” of their emotions is that most of them only seem to lose control at home alone with you, behind closed doors. That is why when the truth finally comes out, people are usually shocked because to most people, “He seemed like such a nice man.” At work or in public, they would never erupt in a fit of rage at their boss or colleagues. They might be an angel around your family and friends which makes it all the more difficult to reconcile how and why this Dr Hyde only shows his Mr Jekyll side to you. For some reason you want to protect the facade of a ‘happy family’, for as long as you can hoping often beyond reason or evidence showing otherwise that it might somehow become true. Because, the truth, the real truth is so horrific. For a while you believe the fairy-tale, deep down in your heart you are hoping will come true. You cling to the hope that the last time, will be, the last time. That “I’m sorry” will really mean, “Never again” and that when things are going well you start to hope and believe that yes, maybe things are finally different. That, it is going to be o.k. …until it happens again.

It wasn’t until I was sitting beside my then husband in the counsellor’s office with a black eye in the latter stages of healing, (when it looks worse than ever) that I understood that it would never be “O.K.” ever again. Having her explain the cycle of violence made everything crystal clear to me. I finally understood that it have never been about me. It had never been in my control to curb his temper or his behaviour. It had never really mattered how nice I tried to be, how much I tippy-toed around him, how much I listened, how supportive I was, how much I tried to make him happy. He would always find a reason to explode in anger over something. And if the incidents between us had been fewer and farther between, so as to make me believe, falsely, that he was getting ‘better’, it was because I had learnt to minimize the triggers. I am by nature a very calm and easy going person. Yet I became really good at becoming smaller, quieter, softer. A more faded, greyer version of myself. If truth be told, the person I was before this relationship was quietly disappearing.

That realisation both terrified and mobilised me.

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I remember the moment I made the heart breaking decision to walk out of that marriage like it was yesterday. That was when I knew that there was no hope left, when I knew that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t ‘over reacting’ or ‘making a big deal out of nothing’ but that he was. I would get out somehow. And, I would somehow find a way to colour myself back in.

That moment was now many years ago. But it has taken me this long to find the courage to write about it, and to say – I am a survivor of domestic violence. I survived, luckily, but so many, too  many women do not. Every time I read a story about how another woman has been murdered by a partner or ex-partner, (one a week is the current statistic) I am still affected by a sense of relief (how easily I could have ended up another statistic) and by a deep, deep sadness at the lives that are destroyed by this particularly insidious brand of violence. Like former Australian of the Year and fellow domestic violence survivor, Rosie Batty, I too was lucky enough to have means to support myself so I was able to walk away, (albeit leaving behind a whole house full of possessions in the process) Actually, my exit from that relationship was more like a meticulously planned military operation. But I somehow found the strength to do it and I am so grateful that I did.

For many women, especially when children are involved I know that things can be much more complicated. However, there is help available if you are able to at first break free from the psychological bind that domestic violence creates. 

My story had a happy ending, but many don’t. We need more money for victims of domestic violence services, not less. More shelters, not less. More awareness and more support for both victims and perpetrators as they are victims too. However it is women, invariably, that tend to pay the ultimate price and that needs to change.

Www.whiteribbon.org.au
Domestic violence line (24 hours) 1800 65 64 63
List of domestic violence services and contacts are available here:
https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/domestic-violence/services-and-support/contacts/a-z



My research project: exploring the lived experience of problematic internet porn users.

Hello dear reader,

Firstly, I must apologise for my lack of content and posts in recent times. I must admit I have been feeling a little guilty about that lately. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great ideas and notes I’ve jotted down here and there about things I’d like to share with you but I haven’t gotten around to actually posting them! But, in my defense, I’ve had a lot going on this year. Working full-time as a counsellor in the drug and alcohol space which is both challenging and super rewarding as well as trying to fumble through the last few subjects for my Masters (in Counselling & Psychotherapy) has, I must admit, taken up a lot of my time and energy. And now I’m about to embark on my first ever research project which is equally daunting and exciting!

My research project is an exploration of the lived experience of self-identified problematic porn users. I am quite aware of some of the controversy surrounding sex and porn addiction and of some of the backlash that has occurred in the recent media in the wake of the #metoo movement. I think there needs to be a deeper dialogue here and less of the name calling and semantics of whether or not something is labelled an “addiction” or not. Case in point, I had to change the name of my study and take out the word “addiction” to get it approved. The issues as I see it here seem to be multiple and complex. I will attempt to outline them here, forgive me if I digress as I am really just thinking out loud here (in a public forum such as a blog which is so 2018!) anyway… here we go:

  • Diagnosis as a precursor to treatment.

What’s in a name? Well funding and access to treatment as it so happens. The term “addiction” is no longer used as a discreet diagnostic term in the DSM-V. Instead the term “substance use disorder” is used under the umbrella category of “addictive disorders”. For example, if the substance of choice is alcohol then you have an alcohol use disorder. The DSM-V  is the latest edition in a succession of ever expanding diagnostic categories which is used by psychologists, psychiatrists as well as government funding bodies when deciding who and what gets funding for Medicare backed treatment options. For example, if you are wanting to access treatment for mental health issues under Medicare, your doctor can only diagnose you with a condition that is recognized in either the DSM-V or the newly updated ICD-11, which finally includes a diagnosis of Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder, which can include compulsive internet pornography consumption. This is a positive step towards understanding, clarity and hopefully funding more more research in this area.

Despite this, there are still claims in the media that sex addiction is “not the same thing” as compulsive sexual behaviour disorder, including misleading headlines such as, “Sex addiction may not be real, but the world’s leading health group just recognised ‘compulsive sexual behaviour disorder’.

That is not to say there are no treatments available for those who identify as sex or porn addicts but they will most likely get treated for their co-morbid conditions (anxiety, depression, or a co-morbid substance use issue) or if they have the means, there are many private counsellors and therapist out there that do recognise that porn and sex addiction is a real phenomenon regardless of how the DSM-V  or the APA wishes to treat it.

In light of the inclusion of Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder in the ICD-11 the AASECT  position on the term “sex addiction” (that it, “does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder”) seems outdated, however, I see their position is still the same on their website. Whether or not something is called an addiction or compulsion is really a matter of semantics. The real issue is suffering. The suffering that is experienced by individuals who have developed real problems and consequences due to their use of internet pornography.

See this article for a therapist’s view of classification of sex and porn addiction as a discrete disorder: Dear Anyone Who Thinks Sex Addiction Does Not Exist…

  • Social factors.

In the wake of the #metoo movement, and as a result of the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Tiger Woods and Kevin Spacey to name a few of the high profile celebrities who have recently gone into treatment for “sex addiction”, following being outed for sex related crimes and sexual harassment claims, there has occurred a social media backlash of sorts denouncing the term “sex addiction”. It has been viewed as just a convenient excuse for bad behviour and in some cases as a way to avoid what some would consider appropriate punishment for their actions. This writer does not mince her words when declaring, “Sex Addiction does not exist”, with the equally clearcut sub-heading which declares:

“Sex addiction is a label used by rich, powerful men to avoid punishment for sexually violent behaviour.”

It is quite clear that the meshing of the terms “sex addiction” and “sex offences” is occurring to the point where some people see them as one and the same thing, (they clearly are not). Not all sex addicts are sex offenders and vice versa. See this article interviewing Dr Stephanie Carnes, daughter of Patrick Carnes who first bought the concept of sex addiction to the public’s attention with his many books on the topic, for a more balanced view. The point here is that social factors are part of the reason why the topic of sex and porn addiction is so controversial. Some commentators are wary of pathologizing a normal human behaviour. Some think that sex addiction is a term used to shame people and judge people who’s sexuality falls outside of the norm. These concerns are understandable but are a little far-fetched and not backed by the most recent research evidence.

What I find interesting is that no-one would question someone who self-identifies as an alcoholic to the same extent as some researchers are questioning porn users who identify as “porn addicts” – (see this article titled, “Believing you are addicted to porn is what causes psychological distress,” for an example of the popularization of this potentially damaging idea).  So why is there such a spotlight placed on sex/porn addicts?  The article is basically talking about the research of Joshua Grubbs and his team who have been researching the concept of “perceived addiction” to pornography and religious morality as factors in psychological distress related to porn use. I have no doubt that for some individuals, religious faith (or religiosity as it is sometimes called) and morality does add another dimension to the harms they are experiencing due to excessive porn use, but it is not the single factor as many other studies can attest to. I could list a bunch here but just head on over to www.yourbrainonporn.com for a comprehensive list. The Grubbs’ studies, for some reason, ignore a lot of other research in the area of porn use where users do not feel any moral misgivings about using porn but still describe symptoms which mirror those who are in addiction to substances such as alcohol or cocaine, including symptoms similar to tolerance (e.g. escalation of types of porn consumed over time), compulsion, desire, triggers/cravings, inability to curb use despite a desire to do so and symptoms similar to withdrawal.

  • Addiction and semantics

Words have power. In recent times there has developed a reluctance on the part of some clinicians, organizations and media to use the words like “addict” or “addiction” when describing what are in essence addictive behaviours. There is a reluctance to use these words as “labels” because of the social stigma attached to them. Most individuals I talk to as an alcohol and other drugs counsellor who are in recovery are the first to call themselves an “addict”. Speaking to recovering addicts, they appear to welcome the “label” or the description of their behaviour by this one word as a way to perhaps name their problem in the most efficient way, especially those from a 12 Step program. If this is the case, who are we as clinicians to correct them and say you’ve got it wrong? There is one word that seems to describe the behaviour most accurately for all these people, whether they are suffering from a substance use disorder or a “problematic behaviour”, and that word seems to be addiction. Following the philosophy that in order to cleanse oneself of an issue, one has to first acknowledge and accept that an issue exists in the first place, for many, the word “addiction” or “addict” best seems to do this. Whether or not the term is accepted by the media, clinical and scientific community is really irrelevant when it comes to recovery and healing from the wounds both caused by and those that have predated someone’s addiction. The fact that the DSM-V lists substance use disorders under the umbrella heading of “Addictive Disorders” should be enough to give the word some credence as the most accurate, descriptive term for a set of behaviours which involve physical, psychological and neurological factors that share common features (see Love et al., 2015).

  • The importance of honouring lived experience

Carl Jung, one of my favourite therapists, philosophers and thinkers knew that statistics only tell a part of the story, the “ideal average” as he called it. In order to tell the truth of experience one needs to use words rather than numbers. As a former journalist, it is always the story that interests me most. As researchers, we should not lose fact of the importance of personal insight and experience. As a qualitative researcher, my study is in the form of an online survey asking open ended questions and my aim is to explore what problematic users of internet pornography experience.

Here is a link to the participant information page:

https://pornresearchstudy.wordpress.com/  

Update (October 2018)

The survey is now closed. I now begin the daunting task of coding and analysis of the results. The information page will remain live for the next few months in case participants need to access the support pages listed.

References & further reading:

Garcia, F., & Thibaut, F. (2010). Sexual Addictions. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 254-260.

Goodman, A. (2001). What’s in a Name? Terminology for Designating a Syndrome of Driven Sexual Behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 8(3-4), 191-213.

Harper, C., & Hodgins, D. C. (2016). Examining Correlates of Problematic Internet Pornography Use Among University Students. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(2), 179–191.

Kraus, S. W., Voon, V., Kor, A., and Potenza, M. N. (2016) Searching for clarity in muddy water: future considerations for classifying compulsive sexual behavior as an addiction. Addiction, 111: 2113–2114.

Kwako, Momenan, Litten, Koob, & Goldman. (2016). Addictions Neuroclinical Assessment: A Neuroscience-Based Framework for Addictive Disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 80(3), 179-189.

Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433.

Wilt, J., Cooper, E., Grubbs, J., Exline, J., & Pargament, K. (2016). Associations of Perceived Addiction to Internet Pornography with Religious/Spiritual and Psychological Functioning. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 23(2-3), 260-278.

 

 

Some simple ACT strategies for managing urges, cravings and triggers

What is ACT?

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is a powerful way to learn how to manage anxiety by accepting your thoughts and feelings and taking control of your life by taking committed action in the present to create a more meaningful, richer life in the future. It has a lot of tools and helpers that you can use right now to help you with any uncomfortable thoughts, memories, worries, feelings or urges, cravings and triggers that may present themselves on your recovery journey, as they invariably do.

ACT uses mindfulness based strategies to help you get present. Getting present is the first and fastest way to take control of your meandering mind. Mindfulness can be described as focused attention on what is happening both internally and externally without trying to change, judge or struggle with whatever is happening for you in that moment. This allows you to take control and make better choices.

Following are some mindfulness based ACT strategies.

Contacting the present moment 

Grounding is a mindfulness based exercise which involves grounding yourself in the present moment in order to ride out any emotional storms that come your way.

The purpose of grounding yourself is not to make the storm go away or change how you feel about it but simply to hold you steady until the storm passes on its own.

What to do

When a painful feeling, thought or memory threatens to ‘capsize’ you don’t try to control it or push it away or bury it deep, instead;

  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Push both feet firmly into the floor
  • Clasp both hands firmly together
  • Take a deep breath in and let it out fully
  • Notice your pain…. and also notice the following
  • Notice 5 things in the room
  • Notice 3 or 4 things you can hear or smell
  • Notice the sensation of your body being supported in your chair or if you are standing, the feeling of standing on something solid. Feel the certainty of the ground beneath your feet holding you up.
  • Take another deep breath and remember that even though your pain feels and is real, so are these other things. 

“Defusion” exercises

Defusion is another form of mindfulness which involves detaching yourself, ‘unhooking’, or creating some space between you and a disturbing, negative, worrying or otherwise unhelpful thought that has been getting in the way of you living the life or being the person you really want to be. There are many ways to practice defusion. Below are some simple strategies that can be done alone or with a therapist or another supportive person.

 

1 – I’m having the thought that…

One of the simplest ways of recognizing your thoughts for what they are (just words or images, floating in and out of our minds) is to put the phrase, “I’m having the thought that…” right before whatever your unhelpful thought may be. For example, if you are struggling with feeling unwanted or unloved you may have a thought that comes up for you frequently which is, “Nobody cares about me”.

When you have this thought all the time, it can understandably cause you to feel even more unwanted and unloved because you are ‘fused’ with the message of that thought, or to put it another way, you have convinced yourself that the thought is true and believe it 100 per cent. This causes you to feel even worse.

However, if you try changing, “nobody cares about me” to “I’m having the thought that nobody cares about me” – it suddenly takes on a different meaning. You are no longer telling yourself you are uncared for, you are simply recognising that you are having a thought about nobody caring. Notice the difference in how your feel when you put the words, “I’m having the thought that…” before such thoughts.

2 – Naming the story

Often we tend to tell ourselves the same old thing on repeat. Like a broken record in your head, our minds tell us all sorts of things that are often remnants of old conversations, memories and messages that we may heard from parents, teachers or other adults from childhood. Often we find these thoughts are similar in some way and soon enough, you may notice that they tend to be variations on a theme. Often, it’s a variation on the “not good enough” story. Not this enough, not that enough etc. Whatever it is, once you recognise your stories it’s time to practice letting them go if they no longer serve you. Try the following exercise it order to do this, especially when a particularly triggering thought takes hold.

  1. Listen to your thoughts. What is your mind telling you. (Give yourself some time to do this, a few days or a week at least.)
  2. What are they? (If it helps, write them down)
  3. What’s the story?  Remember, it’s just a story. It can be true or false, correct or incorrect but is it helpful? Does it help me in any way to keep thinking this way?

If no, practice letting the thought go.

3 – The Worry Later Plan

Take a deep breath and exhale completely before and after this exercise.

  1. First listen to your thoughts.
  2. What are they? What are you worrying about? (Write them down if it helps to clarify them.)
  3. Ask yourself this question; Can I do something about this right now?
  4. If yes, do it. No matter how small.
  5. If no, then let it go and worry about it later. (Sometimes you can schedule a time to worry about this particular issue. You can even set an alarm. Often you might find that when worry time comes, the thing you were worrying about may have dissipated.)

4 – Mindful Stop

Do this anytime you are feeling uncertain, overwhelmed or anxious:

(This was taken from from Russ Harris’, The Happiness Trap)

Now here’s one especially useful, ultra-brief, and very simple mindfulness practice, that you can easily incorporate into your busy daily routine, no matter how pressed for time you are. I call it the mindful S.T.O.P. Here’s how it goes:

S – Slow down (slow down your breathing; or slowly press your feet into the floor; or slowly stretch your arms; or slowly press your fingertips together)
T – Take note (with a sense of curiosity, notice your thoughts & feelings; notice what you can see and hear and touch and taste and smell; notice where you are and what you are doing)
O – Open up (open up and make room for your thoughts & feelings, and allow them to freely flow through you; use any defusion or expansion skill you like)
P – Pursue values (reconnect with your values, and let them guide whatever you do next)

For more on mindful stop you can visit:

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/how_to_do_a_mindful_s.t.o.p

5 – Letting go

We often spend a lot of time struggling with unwanted thoughts, memories, fears or sensations. This often adds to our distress. For example, with anxiety, we might wish that we didn’t feel anxiety, we might tell ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way!” – then we might get angry about our anxiety, so before long we have anxiety, anger about our anxiety and soon enough we might start to feel depressed about our anger and our anxiety – so we now have 3 uncomfortable feelings that we are struggling with. Often our emotions become bigger or appear to be unmanageable when we refuse to look at them directly or are afraid to face them. Often, we find when we finally stop to notice and allow ourselves the luxury of experiencing our reality for what it is (instead of fighting with ourselves about how we should or shouldn’t feel) we find our emotions aren’t as big and scary as we once thought. 

So, what if you were able to just let go of struggling with unwanted thoughts and experiences. What if, when anxiety came up instead of feeling dread or annoyance we just simply noticed it, acknowledged it and took a few deep breaths and carried on with our day? How would that change the way you manage stress and discomfort? 

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Try these exercises in your day to day life, you can use the “Mindful S.T.O.P” exercise every time you feel yourself beginning to struggle with an unwanted thought or experience. Pretty soon you won’t need to go through the all the steps, you will just be able to Notice, Acknowledge, Accept and Move On!

Remember,  the point of power is always in the present moment.

Why acceptance of anxiety is your best foot forward

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

Anxiety is a part of life and a part of being human.

Life is by its nature uncertain. We try lots of different ways to feel secure and increase certainty in our lives but ultimately we really cannot control everything.

This creates anxiety for everyone to some degree.

According to ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), there are three fundamentally different ways we can choose to approach anxiety: fusion, avoidance and acceptance.

Fusion

We can choose to allow anxiety to control us and dictate how we live our lives. We can choose to follow its demands and try to control things as much as we can to reduce it. Ultimately however this strategy does not work very well as there are more and more things that we find we can’t control and it’s hard to keep up with all the things anxiety tells us we need to do to feel ‘safe’. An example of this is agoraphobia. In the end, a person with this condition cannot leave home at all and their house becomes a prison. Anxiety can push us to do all kinds of silly things that seem to make perfect sense at the time, like calling that friend over and over again when they are 10 minutes late, or going back to check you’ve locked the door 20 times, just in case. Anxiety thrives on what ifs and the more we listen to its shrill, insistent call the less we allow ourselves to really live.

Avoidance

We can choose to try and rid ourselves of our anxious thoughts and feelings by avoiding them. This often takes the form of distraction or numbing. We can choose to distract ourselves from anxiety by a number of ways. Some distractions are healthier than others, for example, going to the gym or reading. However all distractions can become problematic if we engage in them too much or too often. Some distractions are pretty unhealthy from the get go, such as alcohol or other drugs. Some can be o.k. in small doses but can cause problems if we allow ourselves to get ‘hooked’ by the distraction – I am thinking of things like eating, gambling, surfing the net, watching a movie or even having sex. These are all potentially unhealthy distractions. In the end however, avoidance only works for a short time to relieve our anxiety, and we often find that when we come back to reality after spending time with our distractions, things have gotten much worse in our absence!

Acceptance

The third way we can choose to relate to our anxiety is to accept it for what it is. That is, make room for anxiety in your life. Expect anxiety as part of life and that it will come up at different times. In-fact, if we didn’t have any anxiety at all, we would get in trouble real quick! Acceptance doesn’t mean you want or like the feeling but simply that you are willing to allow it. Respect anxiety as a part of your humanity and in some ways, anxiety can sometimes even be helpful. I know it sounds crazy but learning to tune in to your anxiety and really listen to what it is trying to tell you can be really beneficial. Some people might call this level of attunement to our inner world intuition. Learning to tune into your anxiety can help you to distinguish what kind of anxiety you are experiencing. That is because anxiety is not a blanket, one size fits all emotion. There are different types of anxiety. For example, there is the anxiety that comes with staying stuck and the anxiety that comes with moving forward. Both generate anxiety but one is more of an excited type of feeling and the other, the former, is more of a sluggish, mucky type of anxiety. I know which anxiety I’d prefer to feel!

So there you have it. Three different ways to interact with anxiety. Which will you choose?

 

 

7 simple life hacks to commit to in 2018.

Forget New Years resolutions. The news is out! We are not victims of circumstance or biology. No matter what your past history entails, the good news is change is possible. Our brains are flexible and wired for change and adaptability. It’s called neuroplasticity. The more we practice a behaviour, whatever that behaviour is, the stronger that part of our brain becomes. In other words, we become what we do most.

So, becoming more conscious of what we do on a daily, hourly and moment to moment basis is the key to change. Whatever it is you want to start or stop doing, there is no time like the present to take a step in the right direction.

Here are seven ways that you can change your mind, and life, for the better with the help of mindfulness practices.

1. Live mindfully

…that is, consciously, with awareness and conscious choice. Living mindfully means bringing conscious awareness to everything you do. It doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day meditating but even a few moments of pausing, breathing and noticing what you are experiencing without overthinking can help improve mood and manage daily stress.

2. Relate to experience directly

Try using your senses rather than through thinking, analyzing or judging all of the time. Take a moment to stop, notice and check in with your self. A simple mindfulness exercise is the 5×5 pause. Going through your five senses and noticing the first 5 things you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. (Taste is sometimes a difficult one, unless you are seated at a sushi train…yum!) However, by the time you get to taste, you will have mindfully checked in with yourself.

3. Stay in the present

Resist the urge to dwell on past events or worry about future “what ifs”. Staying present involves noticing and accepting your day to day, moment to moment experience as real and valuable. Whenever you find yourself time travelling in your mind try a simple 5×5 meditation or simply stop and notice your breathing for a few moments, to bring you back to now. You can also take a moment to look around you and notice the small details of your immediate environment. It’s amazing what you see when you stop to look.

4. Avoid avoiding all unpleasant feelings at any cost

Try to welcome all feelings and emotions as temporary messengers who have something important to tell you. Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are and they do pass. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating our truest needs, desires and wants. We don’t have to follow our emotions or do what they tell us to every time, however, acknowledging your feelings is the first step towards honoring our truth. Knowledge is power after all.

5. Accept things as they now are and go from there

…instead of how you would like them to be. Don’t waste energy or time on struggling with discontent. The more you struggle with feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger regarding those things (or people) that you cannot change, the less energy you have to put into changing those things you can. Take a deep breath, and take control of the only things you can control, your own mouth, arms and legs!

6. Learn to see your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts or reality

Some thoughts are factual, some may have elements of truth and some may be completely incorrect – learn to choose which thoughts are most helpful to you rather than focusing on whether they are true or real. Our thoughts have the ability to influence our emotions and actions. But, thoughts are really just words, symbols and images floating in and out of your conscious mind. They are not who you are. Your thoughts do not define you. One of the core mindfulness processes is taking a step back from your thoughts and watching them come and go. Like clouds in the sky, or sushi on a sushi train! You can choose your thoughts just as you can choose your sushi. Focusing on thoughts gives them undue power  however so, choose your thoughts wisely.

7. Practice self-compassion daily.

Be kind to yourself. Learn and practice how to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and respect you really want. Watch what you say, do and how you treat you. If you find yourself saying, doing or treating yourself in a way that you would never treat a friend then that is a sign that you need to be more loving to you. Take some time every day to say a kind word to yourself or give yourself some praise or encouragement. It might be useful to practice daily affirmations like, I am doin the best I can with what I have or Every day I get a little better at being me.

There you go. Seven super simple New Year strategies to practice daily to improve your mind, reduce anxiety and stress without having to start a new exercise class or join anything.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable end of 2017!

 

What makes for a healthy relationship?

Relationships. Like it or not, we can’t really live without them. For better or worse, our world can be rocked by the quality of our relationships. That’s why our early relationships are so important. It’s from these early years that we learn a lot about what it means to be in relationship with another human being.

As babies and then small children, we rely on our caregivers (mothers, fathers, other adults) to show us what relating to another person involves. That is, how to act, what is and is not o.k., how to share, how to be alone and how to manage stressful situations. As babies and young children we trust the adults in our world to care for us. This makes it easier for us to explore our world, knowing that we can rely on our caregivers to be there when we need them.  This is what is known as secure attachment.

There are different types of attachment based on the quality of your early childhood relationships. According to attachment theory there are four basic attachment styles:

Secure, Anxious-ambivalent, Anxious-Avoidance and disorganized attachment. The theory goes that whilst we may have a dominant pattern or style of attachment, our attachment styles can change during our lifetime, depending on our adult relationships and experiences.

A healthy relationship mirrors a secure attachment.  In a healthy relationship we have a balance of security and independence. We feel safe with our partner and feel supported whilst also being free to follow our dreams. In a healthy relationship, our primary partner is our most important attachment but not our only attachment. There is room for friendships, family, career and self-fulfillment.

How do you know if you are in an healthy relationship? Well, the two wheel diagrams below help explain the difference. The Power & Control Wheel shows you what an abusive relationship is like so this is clearly not a healthy relationship. The Equality Wheel shows some elements of a healthy relationship, also pictured below.

 

 

DVWheel

 

EqualityWheel

 

I too have a list of elements or factors that I consider are essential for making a healthy, long lasting and rewarding relationship. This is my personal list of the sorts of things I consider to be important. I encourage you to think about and make up your own list. If your relationship is not as you would like it to be, perhaps counselling may help you and/or your partner have a look at why this is and what you can do about it.

My list of relationship toolbox essentials:

Communication – the couple that talk together, stay together.  If you can talk to your partner as if they were your best friend then chances are, when you are both older, greyer and hopefully wiser, you will still be able to just sit together and talk. When everything else fades, conversation is priceless.
The Comfortable Silence – Just as it is important to be able to talk well together, so is it important to be able to sit quietly in the same room together and not feel like you have to talk. Reading together, checking your social media feeds, watching TV or a movie, are all simple things that can be done quietly and contently.
Knowing the game plan – making sure you both want the same thing and are on the same page when it comes to the relationship’s strategic plan. Do you both want marriage, or not. Kids or not. Big wedding or elope to Las Vegas.? Whilst marriage and children are tricky topics to bring up, and perhaps not a good idea to do so on the first date, at some stage it has to be discussed. I had a good friend who spent 7 years with a man because she assumed he would want children at the appropriate time but when that time came, he made it clear that he did not. Ever. It was a heartbreaking situation.
Sex & Intimacy – Worthy of a blog post of it’s own, but in my humble opinion, sex is as important in a relationship as both parties deem it to be. Some couples are bonking all the time, some save it for a special occasion. For me, it’s about quality not quantity and as long as there is physical closeness, affection, intimacy and everyone’s needs are being met most of the time, that’s good enough for me.
Friendship – At the core of any romantic relationship in my book is a solid friendship. You know, the sort of friendship where it doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re doing it with your bestie then it’s a fun time.  Having a partner that is a best friend as well as a romantic partner is the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.
Negotiating  – Sometimes you are not going to agree with your partner. He is not going to want to come to that family barbecue. She is not going to want to watch that movie with you. There are times when you both want different things. That’s when the ability to negotiate fairly becomes an essential tool in keeping your relationship healthy and thriving. Aiming for a win-win scenario, knowing when to concede a point, showing some restraint when it comes to pushing yours – the art and ability to negotiate is an invaluable relationship tool.
Time – The saying goes, All good things take time. And this is particularly true for relationships. If you are spending 50+ hours at work and are at the gym every other day then your relationship is going to suffer. Period. Likewise, if you cannot think of doing anything without your partner in tow or your partner won’t go anywhere without you then this is not ideal either. Finding a good balance of time spent together and apart is a delicate art at times, but one well worth trying to get right.
Laughter – Laughter is quintessentially human. Being able to laugh with (and sometimes at) your partner is a magical, beautiful thing. A relationship with plenty of laughter peppered throughout is like taking vitamins to keep your healthy on the inside. If you can laugh with your partner when things are going well then it just may be the balm you need to soothe the relationship when life gets more challenging.
Authenticity  –  the ability to truly be yourself when you are with the person you love is, to me, the most essential relationship factor. Feeling like you can say whatever is on your mind, take off your “professional” mask and relax with your significant other is so important. After all, having to pretend to be someone else for years can get pretty exhausting! If you can be your true self with your partner it makes the stress and anxiety that comes with every day life easier. I love that feeling of coming home to my partner and being able to just breathe a sigh of relief.

Well that is it for now. See if you can come up with your own list of relationship factors that you think make the perfect blend when it comes to a healthy, thriving and fulfilling relationship. If you feel I have left anything out that you think is super important, feel free to comment below.