The most common question I'm asked is "What kind of people come to see you?"
Being a therapist, I obviously think there’s great value in therapy for everyone. Recently I found myself thinking about my own initial resistance to having therapy and I realised that I could have benefitted from it long before I actually went. I didn’t go for a few reasons.
1. I didn’t think I needed it
Therapy is for people who aren’t coping, right? People who are mentally ill. People who can’t handle life.
This is often the point that people are at when they seek therapy, but therapy can actually be far more useful if it is sought earlier. When I started therapy I felt ashamed that I needed it, like there was something wrong with me. If you’re anything like me, you probably wait until you’re dying before you ask for help, but what about going not because you need it, but because you want to support yourself? You get your car serviced in order to keep it running smoothly, so why not treat yourself with as much care? Instead of ‘coping’ with life, what would it be like to celebrate it, love it, be excited by it? Therapy can help you deepen your self-awareness and bring more joy to every aspect of your life.
2. I couldn’t see how it would help.
How can talking to someone help? And anyway, talking is what friends are for, right?
Friends are wonderful supporters. Sometimes talking to a friend is all we need, but they always want to help us, offering solutions and trying to give us answers. They hurt when they see us hurting because they love us. A therapist is different because although therapists care, we’re trained to be able to sit with your pain, not avoid it or stop you feeling it, like friends sometimes feel the need to do. One of the most healing things we can have is someone who is prepared to feel our pain with us without flinching. A therapist doesn’t just listen to your stories. A good therapist brings greater awareness to all parts of your experience and helps you understand and accept yourself.
3. I thought a therapist couldn’t change the circumstances of my life.
It’s true that a therapist can’t change what is happening in your life, nor should they try. As a therapist, my job is to help people become more aware of how they respond to what’s happening in their lives, and open up other possibilities. Life is sometimes hard and unfair. Therapy can help you roll with the punches, and get to a point where you don’t even feel like you’re being punched at all. For those with children, there’s the added benefit of passing on the peace and wisdom you gain, instead of passing on all your reactions and neuroses.
I’ll be forever grateful that I have benefitted from therapy and I can’t imagine my life without the awareness I’ve gained. I now navigate life more easily that I ever thought possible.
If you want a recommendation for a wonderful therapist in Sydney, Melbourne or Ballarat, inbox me and I’d be more than happy to help.
I used to just listen to my aches and pains and take a nap when I felt tired. I recently realised that I now get far more information from my body than I would ever have thought possible. You know that feeling when you smell or even hear something horrible and your stomach turns? Or when you see something beautiful and your chest swells? Your body is reacting to external stimuli.
You can experiment: Take a few moments to think of pollution filling your lungs as you breathe and notice the subtle reaction of your body. Maybe you felt like holding your breath, or like you had a bad taste in your mouth, or a tightness in your chest. Now imagine receiving a wonderful long massage. What did your body say to that idea? Maybe you felt yourself relax and become more open, maybe you closed your eyes or breathed more deeply.
Obviously a massage is better for you than breathing in pollution, but you can also see what your body says when you are feeling indecisive.
"Should I have another drink?" You might assume you want one, but if you take a moment and pay close attention to your body’s reaction to this idea, you might get another perspective. When I have just eaten a delicious meal at home, in my mind I definitely want a second helping, but when I tune in to my body I usually find that my stomach has had as much as it can handle and to eat more would actually be a strain. My body says no. If you find yourself craving a cigarette after a few drinks, just stop for a moment and notice, does your body accept this proposal or were you just about to override it’s wishes - it’s cries drowned out by your thoughts and compulsions? How many times have you had another cup of coffee and only afterwards when you're shaking, did you realise that you REALLY didn't need it?
We assume that our cravings come from our body, but you might be surprised that what your body says is different to what your mind is really trying to tell you.
So pay attention to your breathing, your heart rate, the tension in your shoulders, whether your hands clench or open. The key here is to accept the first answer you get from your body, don’t try to manipulate or rationalise it. And don’t worry, you can always still go with what your mind wants – at least you’ll be making an informed decision!
So why do you have cravings if your physical body doesn't actually want anything? There are many reasons, but commonly it's our anxiety telling us that we need some support. We feel like we're lacking something inside and the easiest way to 'fill the hole' is by consuming something on a physical level (sex, alcohol, chocolate, shopping). Obviously this is only a temporary fix and figuring out what's behind it takes some time and effort. Start by noticing your cravings and try to pinpoint what thought you were having immediately before the craving hit, or look at the situation you're in and find what may be triggering the feeling that you're not enough. You'll quickly find a pattern. Then just let yourself experience the anxiety rather than covering it up by consuming something, even just for a minute. The better you get to know this feeling (either on your own or in therapy), the less powerful it will become. You don't have to fight it, just keep experiencing it and it will slowly let go of you.
We all try to be non-judgmental, but no matter how kind you are, there are bound to be some personality traits that you have difficulty tolerating. Think about it. Who makes your blood boil? Selfish people? Perpetrators of violence? People who are unaware of how they’re affecting others (like bad drivers)?
In a previous post, I described the theory that we are all born equipped with every characteristic of every human that has lived before us, and we are subsequently programmed to become acceptable, ‘nice’ people.
Let’s look at selfishness as an example. You were born with the capacity to be selfish, and you developed into a thoughtful person as a result of your environment. Perhaps you experienced the effect of another’s selfishness and resolved to be better, or maybe you were taught that selfishness is a very undesirable trait by your family. Either way, you have disowned a part of yourself. One of the problems with this, is that we are not necessarily skilled at refining our personalities when we are young and while being selfless is nice, we may have also lost our ability to put ourselves first in an appropriate way.
Generally, these traits that we have disowned are also the characteristics we judge most harshly in others. We don’t allow ourselves to have them and when we see them in others it actually sets off a little alarm. Have you ever seen an obedient child watching a ‘naughty’ child? Usually they get very worried and protective of the rules and start to tell tales. It’s the same with us. Somewhere inside us a child panics “THIS IS NOT ALLOWED!”. If we are not able to have certain characteristics, we are certainly not going to tolerate them from anyone else –in fact, it feels unsafe.
Interestingly, more often than not, we are guilty of the same traits we judge. Having disowned something doesn’t mean we don’t do it, it just means we do it without awareness. For example, I always judged stinginess very harshly and when questioned about it I proudly insisted that I didn’t care about money and would always attempt to pay more than my share. What I didn’t realise was that there are other ways to be stingy, and I had to (grudgingly) admit that I was stingy when it came to love.
So, an experiment. Think of something you can’t stand about someone (your partner or parents are a great place to start!). Maybe it’s immodesty, rudeness, ignorance, racism, lateness, messiness, carelessness. What happens in you when you have this thought? Where do you feel it in your body? Maybe you experience anxiety or a tightness in your chest or stomach.
Now think about the ways in which you might exhibit this characteristic. Would anyone in your life say that you are rude, for example? Are you rude to yourself?
It may not be in the same situation, or to the same extent, but you too have this trait. It’s certain that you have it, simply because you’re human. Notice what happens when you recognise this. What happens to the sensation of the judgment?
So be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to be flawed and human, just do it with awareness. The more you can accept ALL of yourself, the less you'll experience judgment of others, and the more peace you’ll have in life.
If you can legitimately see a negative (or even a positive) trait in another that you cannot locate within yourself, I'd LOVE to hear from you, either in the comments or via PM. Be brave and share what you’ve discovered!
Anxiety is something we all experience to varying degrees. It can range from a mild uneasy feeling to a full-blown panic attack. It is never pleasant and in the long term it can be harmful to your health. Anxiety is the after-effect of stress. It is the lingering feeling that something isn’t right, or is going to go wrong. On a mental level, it causes the mind to speed up and try to control the future. To understand anxiety we need to look at our evolution.
As cavemen, we lived a mostly relaxed life, with periods of intense stress and danger when threatened by a predator. When the Sabre Tooth Tiger approached our ancestors, their primitive brains sprang into action, releasing the necessary chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol (among others) to help them survive. The caveman’s heart pumped faster, their respiration increased and their muscles switched on, ready to run to safety. This is the well-known fight/flight/freeze response.
Although our modern brains are much more sophisticated, it is still the role of the autonomic nervous system to save us from danger. Unfortunately this part of our brain can’t tell the difference between a real, physical threat, and a figural or emotional threat. That’s why we feel the stress of work, for example, throughout our bodies. The other problem is that when our ancestors’ bodies were flooded with these stress chemicals, they actually used them – they ran or fought and expended the energy, thus helping their bodies to process it and return to their natural resting state (aka homeostasis). In contrast, in the modern world we rarely expend this energy (and we almost never use it in the moment), and we become stuck in a cycle of fight/flight/freeze, never really returning to homeostasis. As a result, our brains change and we get into the habit of reacting this way, causing this to become our default response. That’s why it takes you the entire two week holiday to actually relax – up until you arrive on the beach, your body is constantly being triggered into stress and then continues to struggle to process the effects for some time. We also tend to self-medicate to try to calm ourselves down and “unwind” with a few drinks, which just masks the symptoms for a few hours.
There are a few things you can do to return to homeostasis.
Mindfulness and meditation bring you into the present moment, which for anxiety, is like sunlight to a vampire. As we spend more time practicing mindfulness, our brains rewire themselves, eventually making homeostasis our default setting.
Therapy can be of benefit not only to help you return to homeostasis, but to increase your threshold for stress. This means you’ll get triggered into stress less often, and be able to deal with it when it does happen.
The third thing that can be helpful is Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). This uses our body’s natural wisdom to release stress and trauma from the physical body.
Useful links are in the comments.
Do you lose your cool easily or snap at others before you even realise you're doing it?
When faced with a challenging situation or person, we can either react or respond. Which one you do will depend on how you’re looking at the situation.
A reaction comes from the part of us that wants to avoid or control something. It comes from a negative mindset. If you’re seeing yourself as powerless, vulnerable and needing to avoid something, you will react. A reaction might be quitting when something goes wrong, speaking to others in a defensive “You’re wrong” kind of way, or becoming emotional and feeling victimised. A reaction happens automatically, it is an impulse to protect ourselves and be right. It's an argument with reality.
A response is very different. A response is a deep, grounded expression of what is true for you in that moment. A person who responds might have the same reaction as anyone else, but they wait. They observe the impulse to react and wait. Then they ponder “What is in my best interests? What is really true for me in this situation? What would I love to create?”
If our partner speaks rudely to us, we might feel as though they are attacking us and making us feel “wrong”. The harmony of the relationship seems to have been threatened and our initial impulse will be to defend ourselves by speaking rudely back and showing them that we are not wrong, in fact, THEY are. If we speak rudely back to them, although we are acting in defence of ourselves and how we want things to be, we are actually guaranteeing that our peace will be disrupted.
So, we can either follow this impulse, or we can stick with what we really want – love and harmony.
A similar thing can happen with parenting. When a child behaves in a way that disrupts our plan of how things should be and annoys us, we can either react by angrily chastising the child, or we can pause for a moment and take a breath. In this moment we can get in touch with the feelings that have come up and decide whether to react angrily, or respond in line with how we really want to be. In this moment there’s an opportunity for love and compassion for ourselves and the child to emerge.
This is not a matter of repressing our negative feelings and impulses, not at all. We observe the negative reaction within us, accept it as a valid option, and simply choose what we REALLY want. It’s possible to actually express the reaction without reacting. We could say “Oh, I feel a bit annoyed/defensive right now, but what I really want is to be close to you.” You might be surprised at the effect this has on the other person, too – especially children.
This, of course, takes practice. Therapy gives us the opportunity to practice this in a safe environment. In time you’ll no longer be at the mercy of other people and situations. It’s about increasing the small window of time between the stimulus and our reaction/response. In this window, there is the opportunity to choose what you’d really love to create in your life.
Happiness. It’s an interesting one. What stands in the way of it? What do we do when we don’t have it?
We have all been in a situation where we are unhappy with some part of our lives. If you haven’t, you’re either in denial, or you’ve got this life thing down pat and you needn’t read any further – Good day to you!
But what are you supposed to do if you’re feeling unhappy, dissatisfied or unfulfilled? Change something, right? Absolutely. The only problem with this, is that we tend to see external factors as holding the keys to our happiness. “I’ll be happy when I have more money/when I have my own home/when I have a better relationship”.
Often when we are unhappy, we cover it with booze or drugs or cigarettes or chocolate. When we are aware that we need to make changes, we think that if we exercise more or get a hobby we might feel better. We think we might be happier if we move, change jobs or if we are with a different partner. What do you think is standing in the way of your happiness? Go on, name it.
Sure, maybe that jerk at work really is making your life hell, but haven’t you noticed that there’s always someone who isn’t acting the way you need them to? Maybe your job is sucking the life out of you, but will changing companies really give you lasting peace? As a mentor of mine says, changing these external things is about as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in order to avoid the iceberg. It’s all futile. It doesn’t help in the long term because the iceberg is your own creation.
In my first job as a teacher I became so stressed that I got quite sick. I changed schools and worked less. It felt like a relief for a while, but the same stress began to creep back in. No matter what job I did, I felt anxious that I wasn’t doing it well enough. I eventually learnt that this stress was mine. I realised that
I was responsible for it and the only way I was going to change it, was to understand it better. So, I studied it, in therapy and alone – where it started, what thoughts it brought, how it served me and what it cost me. I learnt what beliefs about myself lay below it. I had similar experiences with relationships, friendships and study.
A good therapist can guide you in this exploration, quickly revealing the hidden dynamics and helping you understand yourself, which gives you the opportunity to affect real and lasting change.
Learning to take responsibility for my life, instead of putting all of the blame (and all of the power) on my circumstances allowed me to find happiness in all areas of my life without changing any of my circumstances. As William Arthur Ward said, “Happiness is an inside job”, so learn to create the life that you want from the inside out.
Undoubtedly the most important thing I learnt in my journey as a client was The Work of Byron Katie. I want to share one of her main principles, the concept of staying in your own business.
We generally think that anything that has anything to do with us is our business. That’s fine, if we are prepared to live in misery, but if we want to be truly happy and free, we have some work to do.
So, there are three kinds of business – your business, other people’s business, and God/the universe’s business.
Your business consists of anything YOU do, say, think or feel, anything you are.
Other people’s business is anything that THEY do, say, think, feel, are.
The future, the past, whether it rains today, and the fact that cats meow and dogs bark is all God’s business.
Pretty straightforward, right? They key is to ONLY concern yourself with your own business.
What someone else thinks of you is none of your business.
What someone else says about you is THEIR business.
What someone else does to you is none of your business.
I know, it seems wrong. I can hear you saying “But they’re doing it TO ME – so it is my business!”.
No. It’s not. What someone else is doing is out of your control and to try to control it is not only futile, but it’s also the greatest cause of unhappiness.
You see, anytime we suffer, we are in someone else’s business.
If you are completely in your own business, only worrying about what you are doing, saying, thinking, feeling and what kind of person you are, it is impossible to be unhappy. All suffering is born of trying to control things that are not our own business.
When we try to control what happens in the future we feel anxious. When we dwell on the past and wish things were different, we become depressed. When we want others to change we are engaging in a struggle that we can’t ever truly win.
So, let’s do an experiment. Do the first part, before reading part two.
Part One: Think about a person or situation that really bothers you, really get yourself into the issue. Find where this lives in your body (maybe a tightness in your chest, a sick feeling in your stomach, a headache, a weight on you etc). Really experience this sensation. Imagine that you’re experiencing this feeling because a piece of you has been ripped out and has gone over to that other person or situation to try to resolve it. It is unpleasant, right?
Part Two: Now imagine that this piece of you, that has gone out there, is attached to a tiny thread, which you can start to pull on, gently drawing it back to you. This piece of you floats back through time and space and comes home, fitting back in like a perfect jigsaw piece. Notice how you feel. More whole, right? Peaceful? This is what it feels like to be in your own business. This is what it feels like to choose to stop suffering.
Now, I know this is an uncomfortable concept. I’m certainly not claiming that other ways of being are wrong – they’re natural reactions. This is merely an alternative to feeling as though others are the cause of our suffering. Staying in your own business takes determination and practice. Luckily, life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice this.
So next time you’re stressed, annoyed, disappointed or upset ask yourself “Whose business am I in?” Come and see me to experience this work fully, in relation to your own struggles. It’s liberating.
I’ll include some links in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experience of this, good or bad, and if you have questions, ask them below!