Therapy Talk

At the beginning of 2015 I had a strange and unsettling episode that harked back to my days as a stressed out third year in university. It was a panic attack, full blown and frightening. Brought on, I think (it’s always hard to pinpoint), by a lack of direction in my life at the time. I had moved to Brussels with my boyfriend and was loving life in Belgium, but my nine month maternity cover job contract was coming to an end and I didn’t have anything else lined up. I was also conscious that my status as a girlfriend rather than a wife in this international setup was somewhat lacking in security. And so, after weeks of internalising my emotions, they built up and burst out of me in a tidal wave of fear. I hyperventilated myself silly, cried and panicked for the best part of an hour. Fortunately my then-boyfriend (now-husband – as it turned out I didn’t have to worry about that part) was on hand to offer words of support and encouragement. I calmed down. But I knew something inside me had awakened, and that I would need to find the courage to face it.

And so I did something I never thought I would actually do: I found a counsellor. And I went to my first session feeling embarrassed and stupid, like I was wasting her time and my own. And thinking surely counsellors are for people with real problems, not women whose biggest issues are which job to choose next and whether their boyfriends will decide to pop the question. But as I sat and talked, in the first session and the next, I realised this was about so much more.

We humans are like onions. When you start to peel away the layers you find layers you never knew existed. Each represents experience, and emotion. And until you have uncovered them all it’s hard to appreciate why you are the way you are, why you interact the way you do with others, with the world. And, most crucially of all, how you can adapt your behaviour to bring about positive and lasting change.

Almost eighteen months later I had my final session. It was tonight.

My counsellor asked me what three things I had learned from our sessions. I said, firstly, I’ve learned how to get some perspective. When I feel myself getting anxious, I now have the tools to dissociate myself from the stressor – even if just for a moment. I can then ask myself how big the problem is, really. If it will matter in three weeks, three months or three years. If it’s worth fighting or losing sleep over. And the answer, of course, is usually no. Secondly, I said I’ve learned some valuable coping mechanisms in response to specific situations. The best one was the victim-perpetrator-rescuer scenario, which I have used successfully to navigate occasional tricky patches in relationships. Finally, I’ve learned to be more empathetic towards others, to appreciate they have layers of their own (layers sometimes even they don’t know about). I have a propensity to be oversensitive, but now I have the capacity to realise that people don’t do things with the aim of upsetting me. It’s just the way they are, the way they have been conditioned. Just as my response to their behaviour is the way I have been conditioned.

It’s been a great experience.

I’ve learned a lot: About the person I was, the person I am and the person I want to be.

Now it’s time to take back the reins.

Anxiety-Looking-Glass

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NLP Techniques to Achieve Positive Lasting Behavioural Change

Recently I attended a workshop in Brussels on how to incorporate New Code Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques into daily life as a means of achieving positive and lasting behavioural change. It’s difficult to condense the content of that inspiring three hour session (hosted by fabulous trainers Lidija and Thomas from Momentum Strategies Coaching, who offer courses in London as well as Brussels and other locations worldwide) for the purpose of this blog post, but I’m going to have a go.

During the session, Lidija and Thomas explained that behaviour change is instigated by our unconscious mind rather than our conscious mind. When we want to change a behaviour we must therefore tap into our unconscious mind. This cannot be done, however, unless we are in the right state of mind to engage. For example, if we are feeling stressed, angry or sad, we are less likely to be able to communicate our wants and desires to our unconscious in a meaningful way.

The word ‘wants’ is key here, because the unconscious mind doesn’t recognise or process negatives e.g. I don’t want to keep behaving like this. Rather, it recognises positive affirmations e.g. I want to change this behaviour.

During the workshop we did a number of exercises to promote relaxation and to help us connect with our unconscious mind. One such exercise involved asking our unconscious to support us in making the positive behaviour change we most wanted. According to NLP theory, in making this connection between conscious and unconscious mind, the unconscious mind will begin to adapt our behaviour in ways that promote the desired behavioural change, without the conscious mind even being aware of it.

One example given to demonstrate this was that of a writer who wanted to finish a novel (bit close to home, this one). If the writer were to ask their subconscious every night to support them in achieving this goal, they might find that one day, on waking, they reach for their smartphone (as is their habit) and it drops onto the floor and underneath the bed. Whilst not necessarily the case, this could be an indication of the unconscious mind forcing a change in behaviour to break the negative behavioural cycle (i.e. checking smartphone before doing anything else, and getting sucked into social media etc.), and the writer might take this as a sign, leave the phone under the bed and get their laptop out instead, and begin to write.

I admit I was initially a little sceptical about this example, but then I tried it myself, and a couple of days later as I walked to work along the normal route I suddenly veered off and took a different route, with no input whatsoever from my conscious mind. And then, also unbidden by my conscious mind, my new novel idea popped into my head, and I spent the rest of the walk to work thinking about it. Granted, this could be coincidence, but I’m interested enough to find out more about this fascinating technique and learn how to use it to make positive lasting change in my life.

As a starting point of NLP it is important to clearly state our Intentions i.e. the things our conscious minds most desire. The following is my list:

  1. I WANT TO FINISH MY SCREENPLAY
  2. I WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL
  3. I WANT TO IMPROVE MY FRENCH
  4. I WANT TO BE A MOTHER
  5. I WANT TO BE A GOOD WIFE AND MOTHER
  6. I WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND OTHERS / THE HUMAN CONDITION
  7. I WANT TO HELP PEOPLE

What’s yours?

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Life Lessons

As Mary Scmich once wrote (and Baz Luhhrman subsequently recorded), in life one must accept certain inalienable truths. One of those truths, in my own meandering experience, is that people are apt to let you down. Rarely will they act a certain way or say a certain thing because it is the kindest response; because it would make you feel better. No, humans are inherently selfish creatures so, more often than not, they will say what makes them feel better, even if that same thing will make you feel worse.

The key to coping with this is learning to accept without internalising; don’t allow the words and actions of others to hurt you; to affect your belief system about yourself and your place in the world. Easier said than done if, like me, you are a sensitive soul who does take things to heart. Even the smallest off the cuff comment meant as a joke can cut deep to the core of you, and make you question yourself. But don’t.

When others react badly it is often a sign of their own insecurity. If they are rude, or they ignore you altogether, so what? It says more about them than it does about you. You are the bigger person. You have love and compassion in abundance and you know who you are, warts and all. Never allow someone else to call those facts into question. You are you. You are unique. And the only thoughts, words and deeds you have any power over in this life are your own. The rest is out of your control.

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Friends Like These

Last Friday, UK-based social media news feeds were awash with post-election bitterness. Profanities, accusations and rudeness abounded between those who were – according to their profile descriptions if not evidenced elsewhere that day – ‘friends’ with one another. Characterised by a desire to shove opinions down each other’s throats whilst savagely and wantonly disregarding the pesky facts of emotional sensitivity and human decency, this was a war of attrition using words as weapons. And by God was it unpleasant.

To quote a friend who has herself been subject to recent politically-charged vitriol:

“Friendship does not spout vile names. It involves two parties making equal effort. It involves honesty delivered with tact and kindness. It involves laughing, a lot. It involves knowing when to step in and when to step back. It involves communication, balanced and regular. Anything that feels one-sided and wrong, probably is.”

Friendship isn’t always easy. As individuals (the clue is in the name), we will rarely find people with whom we always agree. But that’s okay, because being challenged in our views is the best way we can grow – so long as those who are challenging us do so in a way that is considered, measured and, above all else, respectful. Without mutual respect, friendship cannot exist. In its place is a barren wasteland of forced opinions, deaf ears and closed hearts. This world is full enough of hatred as it is. If we turn on those closest to us, what hope is there for a better future?

Another feature of friendship that is paramount to its survival is honesty. So many people let the behaviour of so-called ‘friends’ go unchecked, despite it impacting negatively upon them, because it’s easier to put up and shut up than it is to rock the boat by being honest. But if you can’t be honest with the person in question, can you truly call your relationship a friendship?

Finally, and most importantly of all, friendship cannot flourish without kindness. When we are going through our own struggles, it is easy to forget that others have theirs too. We cannot change the way others behave towards us during challenging times, but we can try to understand and forgive negative words and behaviour, and stop ourselves from getting drawn into a vortex of negativity.

We are, all of us, only human, and our time on earth is short. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we have, so instead of squandering it we would do well to work on nurturing it.

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What’s MY problem? My only problem is YOU!

The older I get the more I come to realise the virtues of self-awareness. I should preface this post by acknowledging that I’m far from perfect myself, but I do – for the most part at least – have a fairly competent radar for detecting when I’m being a bore and/or getting on someone else’s nerves. Some people, however, seem to have been born without such radar capabilities and are therefore able to spend vast swathes of their daily lives in a state of blithe obliviousness as to just how many of their fellow human beings they are driving to the brink of insanity with their behaviour.

The most maddening type of un-self-aware person is the person who gets constantly upset by other peoples’ behaviour without making any connection whatsoever between others’ behaviour and their own. In other words, the cause and effect principle is so completely lost on them that even if you held up flash cards to highlight that they, in fact, were the root cause of your irritation they would merely tell you that you were being ridiculous and heap insult upon your character (or, more likely still, accuse you of heaping insult upon their character, as a sneaky means of deflection from the true problem – which is, ostensibly to everyone but themselves, actually them).

As such people are prone to having delicate sensibilities, it’s often hard to know whether to grin and bear the extreme irritation their mere presence evokes or to attempt in some way to address the issue and tell them their behaviour is unacceptable. Whichever option you choose will have consequences, and possibly far-reaching ones at that. Remember the rule of cause and effect? Well, that. Ultimately this is a battle of your sanity against theirs, and only a brave man (or woman) will risk toppling the house of cards that is a fragile person’s entire personality. You have been warned.