Did you know you have the power to change your future? Your history may have a bearing on your present but it does not have to determine your future. Think of a line, or a road. At one end is the beginning and at some point the road, and the journey will come to an end. One end of this hyperthetical road represents your birth and the other is death, the end of the road. We are all, whether we like to think about it or not, at some point along our own private journey. Behind us we can see the way we came, how we came to be where we are and the people who helped us get here, for better or worse. But what about the way ahead, we can see a little up the road but at a certain point our sight fails us. This point blank reality is a truth that we cannot really ignore, although, many of us spend quite a lot of energy trying to. Yalom wrote extensively on what he called common existential dilemmas, which I have written about previously, here.
None of us are immune to the existential dilemmas that affect as all. Some things we cannot control, our birthdate, who our parents are, when and where we were born, our race, our height, body shape and genetic make up for example. These are all things that were essentially determined not by us. And I get it, some of the particulars of our non determined factors can be unfair, some of us can be born to privilege while some are born into the worst of situations. Poverty, trauma, abuse, neglect, war and enviro-social factors impact us all to some degree and it is understandable to be angry about some of it, a lot of it and for some of us, most of it. But while anger is an understandable response to adversity, it is not always the most useful.
Your present determines your future. Remember ‘the point of power is always in the present moment’. For it is in the present that we can choose. We can choose to look back in anger and despair or we can choose to look back with forgiveness and acceptance. We can choose to look forward in anxiety or hopelessness or take action to determine, as best we can, a future of our own designing. You need only to accept your power, for it to start working for you.
Accepting your power simply means accepting responsibility for your actions, your words, your deeds and your beliefs, from this point onwards. We have the power within us to change how we think, what we do, how we respond to life’s challenges and what we do with our time and energy.
We can choose to love and to be loved, or we can choose let fear take away our natural state, which is love. Here is an affirmation/poem that can help.
I am love.
I attract love, I radiate love, I attract and radiate love.
The more love I give, the more I receive because I am love.
Only love is real, so there is nothing to fear.
Fear is something I create, but only love is real.
Fear is only a figment of my imagination.
So, therefor, there is nothing to fear because only love is real.
Today I choose love because, I am love. I attract love and I radiate love.
Louise Hay has been called the queen of self help books. In-fact this book was originally published as a pamphlet in 1979 before Louise developed it into the best-selling You Can Heal Your Life in 1984. This book is well loved and has sold up to 30 million copies. It is available in a variety of places online or free as a PDF, or you can find a copy at any second hand book store more times than not.
I recommend this book as a non-scientific spiritual read which should be read with an open mind and heart. It is not evidence based in the way that some other books are that I recommend but it is a book that helped me greatly when I was at one of the lowest points of my life. The premise of this book is quite simple. Our thoughts create our experience of reality. Change your thoughts and you can literally change your life. This is basically the premise behind CBT as well, (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) but written in beautiful, simple and yes, I guess slightly woo-woo language. So, for that reason it may not be for everyone. Louise states her beliefs at the beginning of the book and clearly states, these are her beliefs which you, the reader, can either agree with or not. For example, she believes that we choose our own experiences, our parents and even when we are born. I don’t believe this myself. I don’t know that we choose our parents or time of birth, or our early childhood experiences when we are too young to have any influence on our environments. However, I do believe that we choose our responses to events that happen to us as we grow older, and in consciousness. That is simply my belief.
Regardless of what you choose to accept or not, the book has a powerful message of self-love, belief and self-empowerment which is why I recommend this book to friends, family and clients alike.
The happiness trap
The Happiness Trap is written by Russell Harris who is an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) therapist and trainer. He has written numerous other texts and self-help books based on ACT principals. The Happiness Trap is one I recommend as it is simple to read and has a lot of practical activities throughout. It is a great adjunct to therapy if you are seeing an ACT counsellor.
The basic premise of ACT is simply that life involves pain and suffering, but by accepting our reality as it is, not struggling with it, judging or allowing it to overwhelm us with emotion we can empower ourselves to mindfully take meaningful action in the present to create a more positive, meaningful and fulfilling life in the future. The aim of ACT is not necessarily to get rid of symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, but to learn how to deal with life’s challenges more effectively, so that when challenges or conflict arises, as it will do, we are able to manage them in a way which is more in line with our values, goals and abilities. Bad stuff will still happen, but we can learn to not let the bad stuff affect us so much. ACT uses skills such as mindfulness, reflective awareness training, acceptance and self-compassion to enable us to deal with challenges more effectively and reach our goals sooner.
You can purchase a copy of The Happiness Trap here or at your local bookseller. For the full range of Russ Harris books and access to his online courses you can go to the Act Mindfully website.
Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world
Mark Williams & Danny Penman
This is my go to book to direct clients to who are interested in exploring mindfulness more fully as a practice. The book is basically a home-based version of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who also writes the forward to this amazingly easy to read and follow guide. The title actually does a great job of explaining what the book is. It is a very practical guide, light on theory and jargon but packed with wisdom and knowledge. The hard copy, which I have, actually comes with a CD of the 8 meditations used throughout the book, read in Mark William’s incredibly soothing voice, in my opinion anyway!
The book is actually more of a course, based on Kabat-Zinn’s eight week program. Each chapter is basically a week in the course and there is a meditation to go with it. You can approach this book in one of two ways. You can simply read it as a book, there are lots of interesting stories and anecdotes and information to keep it interesting but to get the most out of it, you can approach it as a guide or course in mindfulness which will basically do what the title says it will do – guide you towards more peace and awareness regardless of what is happening in your external world. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in finding out for themselves what this whole mindfulness thing is really about.
You can grab a copy here. If you just want to listen to the meditations they are available on You Tube or on the Frantic World website.
Mindsight: Change your brain, change your life
Mindsight is possibly one of the less accessible books I recommend to my clients. It does however, have some detailed and thorough explanations of the science of emotion, attachment, relationships and self-integration. I tend to recommend sections of this book rather than the book as a whole. Daniel illustrates his concepts with case studies which is helpful for understanding how awareness of what is happening in our brains can translate into improvements in mental health and functioning. I tend to use his ‘hand model of the brain’ section quite a lot as well as his section on attachment theory as well.
This book is divided into two halves. The first part is theoretical and explanatory and the second is illustrative. If you are interested in learning about the neurology of the brain and how it is organised then you will find the first half fascinating. If you are someone that likes to learn from others’ examples, the case studies which make up the second half of the book will be most helpful.
I personally enjoyed this book from a therapists’ point of view and recommend it to clients who are more scientific in orientation and who become interested in learning more about how our brain works. The book draws heavily on the science of neuroplasticity, the idea that our brains continue to change and develop as we get older based on our experience and interactions with our environment. This means that change is possible throughout the lifespan, which gives us hope at any age.
The body keeps the score: Brain mind and body in the healing of trauma
Bessel van de Kolk
Dr Van de Kolk is one of the worlds foremost specialists in trauma. He was instrumental in the development of the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From his experiences as a young doctor working with returned veterans, he saw first hand the results of trauma experienced by these men and the effects on their brains, memory and bodies.
This book is a very good read. It is both anecdotal and scientific. You will learn a lot about how trauma impacts our brain, mental health and how, ultimately it lives on in the body. If you are a trauma survivor of any kind, I highly recommend this compassionate, liberating read.
As I have been trying to complete my master in counselling and psychotherapy whilst working full time, there are a heap of books on my reading list which I’ve yet to get to. I am just a few weeks away from finishing however, so when I get around to reading them I will post them here. First two on my list are Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and Russell Brand’s book on Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions. Oh and, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. That should keep me busy over the summer months!
If there are any self-help books you recommend I read please comment below.
Three Rules for Empaths – an Antidote to Abuse and a Guide to Healthier Relationships
Jordan Peterson is an infamous psychology professor and author whose recent book, “12 Rules for Life – an antidote to chaos,” is an acclaimed best-seller. Throughout this book Peterson espouses the wisdom he has gained from his years researching and engaging with clients. This wisdom is distilled into 12 epitaphs which he calls ‘rules.’ Whilst I have not yet read the entire book (it is on my reading list), I thought I’d borrow his format with this post which I have entitled Three rules for empaths – an antidote to abuse.
I am suggesting that three important rules to consider are boundaries, honesty and self-love.
These ‘rules,’ if followed, will go a long way towards protecting you from abuse, toxic relationships or mere awkward interpersonal interactions.
If you are an empathic, highly sensitive person, a ‘co-dependant’ or even just an every day person who simply thinks that ‘most people have the best intentions’ or someone who tends to ‘see the best in everyone’ then this post is for you. Or, perhaps you have just come out of an encounter with a toxic person, and unhealthy or abusive relationship and you are looking for answers, then this post is for you.
The reality is that there are damaged people out there, many of whom have their own histories of abuse and trauma perhaps, but whether consciously or unconsciously these people wreak havoc in their relationships and on society at large.
This is because it is (often) the case that you directly allowed the narcissistic/toxic/unhealthy person into your life or allowed them, at any rate, to affect you negatively. This may not be the case for children of narcissistic parents or if your boss turns out to be a narcissist, but even if this is your situation, the below three rules will go a long way towards either helping you heal from an encounter with one of these toxic people, or towards dealing with this person in your life. If you practice the following rules, such that they become a part of who you are, you will be less likely to be 1. Attractive to narcissistic/toxic or abusive people as they will pass you over for a ‘softer’ target, and 2. Easily sucked in by one in the future as you will be more grounded and sure of yourself.
Now, let’s go through them one by one.
Rule 1: Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries!
Rule one could actually be all three rules combined. Because, if you get rule one right, you most likely won’t have to worry about rules two and three. However, rules two and three are essential for healthy relationships. After all, healthy relationships (and by healthy, I mean positive, fulfilling, respectful and joyful relationships) are everything a toxic or abusive relationship is not.
The first step to living within your boundaries is knowing them. Yes… knowing what your boundaries are is the key to protecting them. Sit down, have a think and write some things down that are important to you in terms of values. What do you value most? What sort of person do you want to be? How can you live your life in such a way that you sleep soundly at night? What sorts of people, relationships, activities do you want in your life? These are the sorts of questions it is well worth asking yourself from time to time. One way is to get a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle so as to make two columns. At the top of one column you write the word, “YES” and at the top of the second column you write, “NO”. Then simply fill out both columns with a list of what you will say yes to and what you will say no to in your life. It is your life after all, just as it is your body and your time. No-one has the right to tell you what you should feel, think or do. Knowing your boundaries is the first step towards protecting them. Once you are clear on what you will say yes and no to it becomes easier to tell when someone else is trying to encroach on your boundaries.
Note: Be aware that toxic people will often be quite subtle in their boundary violations, especially in the beginning. They will often start with small, seemingly insignificant requests which may not seem like that big a deal, but they will still make you feel uncomfortable. These are often used to ‘test the water’ so to speak, to see how you react. If you give in on a small boundary violation, they will then push things a little further next time, and so on. This is just something to be aware of, which is why the next rule is also very important.
Rule 2: Honesty
Some toxic personalities become very skilled at getting others to unwittingly break their own boundaries in often subtle, covert or even devious ways. Some (especially sociopaths, psychopaths and some malignant narcissists*) will purposely say all the right things and act in such a way as to project an image of healthy normality, or of who they think you want them to be. Often this involves a period of romanticising and idealising you, the target. They will tell you what you want to hear. They will mould themselves into your perfect other, reflecting your needs and wants seamlessly. Thus, you may let your guard down at first with these people. However, sooner or later the mask of perfect normality will slip. This will usually be in the form of getting you to ‘bend the rules’ in some way which usually involves breaking a small but significant boundary. If this happens it is important to check-in with yourself often. It can help to monitor how you feel after spending time with a certain person and to honestly reflect on whether this person makes you feel supported, respected and valued, or whether you feel anxious, unsure or somehow ‘less than’ after being with them. Do you find yourself questioning your own reality or version of events? Are you being accused of saying or doing something you know you didn’t do? Is this person trying to emotionally manipulate you in some way, guilt trip you or become overly emotional when they simply do not get their way, until you give in to their request and they become as sweet as pie again? Do you feel drained emotionally, physically and even spiritually after you spend time with them? If so, you need to be honest with yourself about the effect this person is having on you. To be able to see what is rather than what you hope something to be is a skill worth cultivating.
Now, being honest with yourself doesn’t mean you have to be honest and upfront with everyone you meet. If you choose to be honest with a toxic person, be prepared for some heavy-duty backlash. As I mentioned above, they do not take well to criticism. The best you can do is be honest with yourself and then be direct, clear and steadfast in your NO; No, I don’t want to do that, No, I cannot drive you on Saturday, No, I won’t lie for you, etc. You don’t owe them a reason. Saying no should be good enough for a reasonable person. If you love and respect yourself, then saying no to a narcissist/toxic person becomes easier to do. This brings me to rule number three…
Rule 3: Love and accept yourself, just the way you are.
Self-love is the key to tying it all together. I have written about self-love before and have mentioned Louise Hay, the queen of self-help who advocated for self-love as fundamental to self-improvement and healing. But how do I love myself, you may ask? There are many things one can do to love and accept oneself. There are affirmations, there are acts of self-care, honouring your needs and feelings, being truthful with yourself and others are but some of the ways. However, I think a simple rule of thumb is to attempt to treat yourself as if you were someone you really cared about and wanted the best for. In other words, be your own best friend, mother and even lover. Show kindness, love and even affection for yourself in all things. Consider yourself a unique, worthwhile and valuable individual who is deserving of love and acceptance, just the way you are. Check out my summary of Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability for more about what it means to have a sense of worthiness.
But let it be said that those who have a healthy sense of worthiness, self-love, acceptance and compassion for themselves are less vulnerable to anything a toxic or abusive person may conjure up. When you value yourself, it acts as a natural repellent or barrier that protects you from unsavoury characters who may cross your path. The best part is, if you take these three ‘rules’ to heart and practice honesty, self-love and keep proper boundaries then you don’t need to do anything other than be yourself. You will naturally attract people that value, accept and love you for who you are into your life, which will leave little room for narcissists, abusers or the like.
I hope you found this post helpful. If you are in an abusive relationship, help is out there. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1800respect if you are in Australia – or your local domestic violence support service in your country.
*I am purposely using non clinical terms for the sake of readability here.
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 therapist 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.
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 clearly see that if you have been programming your brain with negativity and thus creating negative experiences for yourself, it makes sense that by changing the internal script by thinking more positively, it 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/or 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 Louise was also often fond of saying,
The point of power is always in the present moment.
The first part is working through your ‘presenting issues’ (what brought you to seek therapy). In-fact, that’s the easy part. And for some, that’s enough but for others, not so much. For others, that’s when the real work of therapy begins.
For some, simply speaking about their emotions, feelings, thoughts etc is hard enough and the challenge for the therapist lies in simply helping a client to unknit what has often been painfully constructed for the last however many years. Somehow simply being able to articulate what it is that bugs you can be enormously therapeutic in itself. The sense of relief, of lightness, of being able to let down a burden that has been with you for such a long time can sometimes be overwhelmingly beneficial. But often that is where therapy can reach a bit of a hump…the question which then arises is, Now what?
What do you do with this new found insight?
Sometimes this where an apparent stumbling block magically appears. It’s one thing to know why you are the way you are, what bought you to this point. However for some, once the real work of therapy begins, affecting change, real change… well that’s when it can all seem too hard. I’m not a practicing therapist yet, but I would hazard a bet that it is at this point that many clients stop therapy. For when you know the road ahead and what is in store for you, well for some of us it’s easy to lose heart. It may be easier to just stumble along trying your best even with what you know. There is often comfort in what you know, cold comfort maybe, but comfort none the less. My guess is only after several failed attempts at trying to continue on your path regardless of that big black stumbling block dodge balling you from time to time, that one comes to the realization that sometimes the only way around something is to go through it.
(Apologies this was the only video I could find for this song on YouTube)
You are not a helpless victim of your own thoughts, but rather a master of your mind. What do you need to let go of? Take a deep breath, relax, and say to yourself, “I am willing to let go. I release. I let go. I release all tension. I release all fear. I release all anger. I release all guilt. I release all sadness. I let go of all old limitations. I let go, and I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with the process of life. I am safe.