Finding a Way
These are past blog entries below:
21st June 2018 Being Yourself -Can we find a way?
Many of us talk about being ourselves and encourage others to be themselves. It’s a standard piece of advice yet at the same time it can feel hard to achieve. What does it mean to ‘be your self’? Authenticity, keeping to our values and standards, being true to what we really think or feel? Can we really be true to ourselves when we have so many different roles and responsibilities. And there is a truth that I cannot truly express everything I think and feel in certain roles such as at work or with small children. So what does it mean?
Being ourselves is not just about saying what we think and feel or behaving how we please. It does come with responsibility. It’s about knowing, understanding and accepting how we think and feel so we can make a mindful choice about how we express ourselves. It’s about coming from a place of knowing we are essentially Ok as a person and we can choose how and if to express ourselves (see Tartakovsky).
If we are not true to ourselves it can be tiring and affect how we feel. It can be exhausting not being true to ourselves. It takes up so much time and energy if we have to keep changing ourselves, adapting how we present, censor ourselves (see Biali) There is some evidence that people who are more true to themselves feel happier (see Joseph). So finding our own authenticity is good for us.
Being ourselves is more about how we think and feel about ourselves. Too often we focus on how people see us or how we might be judged. We worry we will not be accepted or be criticised. And there may be some truth to these fears. If our past experience of being ourselves was we attracted ridicule or bullying, how can we trust other people again? And if these experiences were repeated we may not even need to wait for criticism from others- we do it to ourselves instead. So we censor ourselves, we pretend to be something other. This requires a lot of energy and effort. We are not helped by expectations from others or messages from social media or society to ‘ always get it right’. So we worry and we stop ourselves.
Being authentic and being ourselves does carry risks. It requires a certain level of resilience to understand that the world does not always receive us well or treat people fairly but we can still be ourselves. But resilience is not about being hard and battle ready- it’s about knowing and feeling that you are OK. That most of the time it will probably be Ok and when it is not you will get through. It’s about getting in touch with the core of who you are as a person and knowing that this does not really change unless you choose. The external world cannot change the central core of your being without you.
This involves finding a place of balance within you. The place where you can sit with your core self and not worry about any need to change. Some people were blessed with the right kind of support from childhood to know this from the beginning. Some people have had to learn this later in life. Some people find mindfulness or relaxation operates at this point and helps them to just be with themselves. Some people have used personal development or therapeutic methods to get to that balanced view of themselves. Whatever your chosen method it is possible to feel more accepting of yourself and be more your true self. The outside world stays outside and you can feel calm just being your natural self.
I liked what Caroline McHugh has to say about being yourself (see McHugh McHugh).
7th June 2018- Living with Uncertainty
One thing we know for sure is nothing is truly certain in life except birth and death. What lies in between is certainly filled with uncertainty. People often say: “..but I want to know for sure” then they usually add “..and I know that’s not possible.” Living with uncertainty is something we all have to adjust to and find our own ways to make sense of it all.
How do I know I have made the right decision?
Can I trust this person?
How well will things work out?
It is normal to ask questions about issues in our lives. It allows us to reflect and consider the options, to consult others for their advice and it gives us pause for thought to doubly check that this is something we truly want to do. But for some this self-questioning builds up anxiety and resolutions are hard to find.
Working with uncertainty requires that we support ourselves to tolerate the not-knowing. How we value ourselves and trust our abilities to make decisions affects how much we cope with uncertainty. Here are my list of tips :
In my view, most people often have more skills and abilities than they realise to manage the ups and downs life sends us. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and forget what we already know or what we can do. Taking care of ourselves, seeking support and advice, and taking stock is often what helps us get through.
You may find this useful:
17th May 2018 “I don’t want to be a burden” – not wanting to bother others.
Having problems is a universal human experience. There is no one on this planet today not facing some problem or other. We all have to work out on a daily basis how to face the day but it is how we deal with our challenges that shows our individual differences.
Most people manage to get up, feed themselves and get dressed but even this can feel a challenge to some when feeling low. Facing a stressful job, family or relationship issues, money worries, dealing with loss or ill health can all present challenges to us. Some people may have long term difficulties with anxiety or depression as a result of past experiences that challenge them in everyday life. We all try to find ways to get through our difficulties.
People use a variety of techniques to support themselves when facing stressful issues- from relaxation, distraction, physical activities, even watching TV. My personal favourite is gardening and walking in natural habitats. Whatever works for you is a good starting point to build on when you need extra support.
In my view, the best self- support is to talk things over with others. If we have a good support network we may have different people we can talk to about different things. Or maybe we have a few close core friends with whom we can share our worries- and visa versa. Most people manage through this kind of support.
However, for some people or at certain times sharing problems becomes a concern in itself. Perhaps we are concerned about the problems and stress levels of our friend or family. If our problem seems unsolvable or has been ongoing for a long time, we may worry about overburdening people. Or maybe that people will not understand or could even criticise us. This makes it feel hard to share and we end up missing out on potential extra support.
There is no hard and fast rule here. Only you know what your support network is like, but in therapy and counselling we examine potential support and what gets in the way. Where people are concerned about being a burden we discuss what this looks like, any evidence for it and ways to manage it. We consider how to test out relationships by a step by step approach or maybe choosing one person to share with. In general most people find it was worth the effort to share with a friend.
In my experience as a Therapist, I find most people who care about us would like to help in some way when we face difficulties. Even with their own problems they can often offer some support even if it is just to listen sometimes. If we are concerned we can always just ask them how much support they can give us. We can also be responsible to monitor ourselves, or listen to advice, if our support needs become too great- maybe this is time for professional help such as consulting our GP.
Nowadays the Internet also provides us with a large choice of web sites and chat rooms to get information and support online or in the community. If friends and family are not helpful, or the problem is too complex for them to resolve, Counselling and Psychotherapy can be a useful tool. Or we may go to organisations that provide support for our particular problem. In the end, we focus on what is helpful to us. The important thing is that sharing with someone often does help us.
The following are examples of web sites that may be useful.
1)How we ask for help- although this is geared to care I thought it had useful tips. see Psychology Today.
2)Sometimes we may have to ‘educate’ our friends and family to understand more about how we feel. There is a lot of useful information on MIND.
3)If friends and family are not always as supportive as we would like it is important that we do not turn inwards to criticise ourselves - see advice
3rd May 2018 Anxiety – When is it OK to worry?
Anxiety is a common theme for many people. It is one of those feelings that regularly occurs throughout our lives. It is actually a useful survival tool- our ancestors would have had to worry if that tiger was around the corner or where to get their next meal. That prompted them to take action to minimise risks. So a certain amount of anxiety is useful and understandable.
In modern times, it is normal to be anxious about an exam or a job interview and people have various techniques to help them cope. In my view, a certain amount of anxiety can be good for us in flagging up a need and prompting us to take care of ourselves. If we didn’t worry about crossing busy streets we might get knocked down!
There are times when our anxiety levels naturally rise eg at times of loss or major change, health problems, major events. Often recognising this is temporary and having some basic skills to help us cope gets us through. Knowing we will be OK in the end often helps.
At other times, coping with anxiety can feel difficult because we do not have an easy answer. Uncertainty , doubts, feeling overwhelmed can ramp up the anxiety so we do not feel we can manage it. We just want it to go away. At these times, our wellbeing is affected and we are not sure how to cope leading us to question our sense of ourselves. In extremes, it can trigger the stress responses of’ flight or fight’ leading to physical changes in our bodies- MIND.
Coping with anxiety is a life skill that we all learn to varying degrees but events may get in the way of how we develop our skills. Difficult childhoods or past experiences may impact on how we learn to manage our anxieties and trust ourselves.
In therapy, we often start with looking at the issue of support- both self-support and from others. I am a great believer in people developing their own‘toolkit’ of strategies. What works for some may not work for others. It is important we develop what works for us.
Most people have a range of strategies they already use to support themselves and we look at how any of these can be developed or strengthened. A lot of people learn new strategies such as ‘Mindfulness’ or may use sport to help them cope. I look at what people are drawn to and want to develop for themselves- as well as what gets in the way.
We often explore where tension is kept in the body and the breathing- so people can practice relaxing and become more aware when tension starts to build. Often this is a difficult one if people are used to holding a lot of tension so we explore this in manageable stages so relaxing can become more normalised.
We also look at triggers and how to take action before the anxiety escalates. Most people are aware of what makes them anxious so planning ahead can reduce tension and help us feel more in control.
We also look at support networks and who is available for support- this can be known people, agencies, online resources etc. Sometimes this can flag up a need to build our network or make better use of them.
Some strategies may not be healthy such as drugs or alcohol but until people find other ways to help them cope it can be difficult to give these up. Recognising that there are other options can support building alternatives into your life.
As we develop our ‘toolkit’ of techniques we also examine our thoughts and feelings. Learning strategies helps us contain thoughts and feelings but we may need to process ideas that escalate the anxiety so we can reduce them. Getting fears and anxieties into proportion is important to help us cope but may take repetition if it has become a pattern long established.
Anxiety is a normal part of life and can be useful to help us look after ourselves. We will never be worry free but we can learn how to deal with our anxieties. Knowing that we have techniques to help us cope, that there are people or places we can find support and understanding our own thought processes helps us find a way through. Life is never going to be worry free but we can learn to trust in our ability to cope and adapt to whatever happens.
14th April 2018 Being 'Good Enough' or the Problem with Perfectionism
A concept we work with in therapy is ‘good enough parenting’. This was an idea developed by an eminent Psychoanalyst Winnicott and later developed by others- a general summary was written by Gray in Psychology Today.
Basically, the idea is that parents do not have to be perfect and accept their children as they are whilst supporting them to understand more about themselves and their world. Parents just need to be ‘good enough’ to support their children to find reasonable ways to deal with an imperfect world and the ups and downs of life. This is not about blaming parents but about recognising how important they are in supporting us to find our way in the world.
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to high standards and wanting to achieve the best results. In fact, wanting to improve enables us to develop and build our skills and knowledge. Some tasks need to be performed to a very high standard especially if risks are high. The problem comes when only perfection will do and how we feel when it is unattainable or comes at a high price to ourselves. This may be about not achieving something specific or it could be about not having the time to achieve the high standards we set ourselves. This may lead us to drive ourselves to a level of stress that affects our well-being and generates self-criticism and shame so we feel there is something wrong with us.
Part of the work of therapy is to support putting things in context and looking at issues holistically. In therapy, I try to explore what may be ‘good enough’ even if not perfect. Often this involves looking at a spectrum of choices and working out what would be disastrous and what would be acceptable. Is it achievable to always be close to perfect? What would be the consequences of allowing ourselves a little more slack? Of course there will always be things that should be carried out at high standards but can we take a more pragmatic approach to allow some tasks to be ‘good enough’.
Sometimes we find that messages have been internalised from childhood about expectations. This could be frequent criticisms and dissatisfactions that make children try harder or could be polarised attitudes about what is acceptable. If we have been taught only perfect or one specific thing will do, it is hard to consider anything else as good enough. This can lead to having our own ‘inner-critic’ ready to tell us how we are not good enough.
In therapy, we work with having a counter –balance to the situation by developing alternatives and challenging the inner-critic. Inner -critics can be useful but they do need to be balanced with a wider balanced view. Am I really such a bad person? Have I really done such a bad job? From looking at choices and considering a wider perspective, people then make their own choices about how they want to live and work. Considering flexibility and adaptability often supports managing the stress and finding what works for us.
Learning to accept ourselves as an ‘OK’ human being even when we do not always succeed as we would wish is important to cope with stress and difficulties. Seeing ourselves as having choices and being adaptable to life helps us to build resilience and supports us to look after ourselves when times are difficult. Being ‘good enough’ is part of being human even if we do aspire to higher things as well.
30th March 20182018 Developing Circles of Support
I often use ‘Circles of Support’ which is a person centred concept taken from supporting people with disabilities to be more independent and included in society. I like this way of looking at how we have different levels of support around us. It is a concept that has grown to be used in other spheres such as the workplace, life coaching, supporting vulnerable others. Another term that can be used is ‘Circle of Friends’ : Mental Health Foundation
Imagine concentric circles and at the centre is yourself. How you support your self is the core of how you live and something we often talk about in therapy. Then you look at the people in your life and where you would place them on the circles. Some people may be close and very much on the inner circles. Others may be more on the outer circles. Some people may even move around the circles as we stay in and out of touch or maybe we get different types of support at certain times. The circles are not static as we adapt them throughout our lives.
There is no right or wrong in this. Some people have a few close friends or family clustered in the central circle. Some people have a spread across the circles, including people on the outer circles who are more superficial friends but still good to spend some time with. Each person has their place including work colleagues, family, and maybe even pets. Not forgetting that we may even contact professionals, helplines and information services to get support. It’s your circle and it is your choice. The question is- does it meet your needs when you need support? If this circle of support is not balanced for you, it is worth exploring what you can do to build it further.
At times of difficulty we often re-examine our circle of support but it is not only about having a social network but also how we use it. Of course, every person on the circle has their own strengths, weaknesses and difficulties which may affect how much and what type of support they can offer. We are also on their circle of support so may be wary of over-burdening them. Even if we have people willing to support us, we may stop ourselves from sharing a difficulty by thinking our issue is not serious enough or too difficult. Sometimes we can do ourselves a disservice by not making use of the support we have.
By thinking about who we have available for support and how we use it, we can better support ourselves at times of need. This is a theme that comes up often in therapy as we look at the messages we tell ourselves that may limit the support we get. By supporting ourselves, we can also better support others in our circle – a mutual benefit.
17th March 2018 We have Different Relationship Styles.
I sometimes like to watch videos by other therapists to see how they describe interesting subjects- and of course to hopefully learn something myself. I was interested in this video that describes four types of communication styles in relationships: "Build don't break relationships"
We often work with communication styles in therapy but with more complexity. Most people are aware of their own styles which can be an asset in different roles and settings. Children usually develop their own communication styles through how adults around them communicate and we continue to develop this in adulthood.
In Gestalt therapy, we believe people learn adaptations based on their experiences so this is not about criticism or blame if something is not working well. We think about the processes going on in terms of thoughts, feelings and meaning as well as their context. I often work with ‘spectrums’ as people are not usually fixed at one point and we look at where their individual styles work well and if and when they do not. For instance, someone who talks a lot may sometimes need to work on slowing down and listening or reflecting. Someone who is very reflective and holds back may need to work on verbalising more
This is not about forcing change- we are all capable of expressing ourselves in the style we choose. Therapeutically I often describe “expanding our repertoire” - being able to do more not less if it is useful to us. If we understand more about our own processing and communication, we may also be able to adapt when we need it and understand more about the different communication styles of other people. This can only support us in our relationships.
12th March 2018 Learning from Wildlife.
I am lucky enough to have a largish pond in my garden and for years without fail the frogs gather to spawn. Except this one. I was wondering where they had gone when suddenly there was frog spawn in a very small corner pond I had made from left over liner. That night I counted 14 frogs in a 2X4 ft space. It was packed. What had happened?
I then worked out the frogs had adapted to the recent cold snap- the larger pond remained iced over for several days longer but the small one thawed much quicker.
I find observing nature relaxing and meaningful. Nature reminds me that sometimes when circumstances mean I can't do what I want -maybe I just need to adapt and think of another way.
Meanwhile I get to enjoy a much closer view of my frogs and tadpoles in the smaller pond- at least for this year.
9th March Deep Relaxation
I was reading about a technique that helps people cope with traumatic memories but they had to be deeply relaxed. In my experience deep relaxation can feel difficult for some people. The sensation of letting go can feel strange and even raise anxiety. Yet we know deep relaxation can be so good for your health.
There are many techniques out there and finding what works for you is important. When I work with clients who have difficulty relaxing, I suggest small steps. Maybe only trying for 30secs or choose a part of you that feels easier such as your hands.
I know from my experience that learning deep relaxation takes practice. Sometimes I may be too tense to achieve it fully which then tells me I need to do it more. But learning deep relaxation is possible with time and patience. The important thing is to try in manageable steps.