Monthly Archives: Jul 2020

How Meditation Reminded Me We Can Start Again

I am a big advocate of meditation and have tried a number of apps over the years. I have settled on a couple that I use regularly, interchangeably, depending on which ‘narrator’ or theme I fancy that day or week. Sometimes I practice a Loving Kindness meditation (Metta); sometimes I find a great deal of usefulness in being guided to focus on my breath; sometimes I focus on the ticking of the large wall clock behind me.

Recently, when I have meditated I have been reminded of two things – one of which I will write about here. It is not a great epiphany, nor is it an original thought. But I have connected the dots between meditation and the idea of starting again.

One of the meditation apps includes discussions on meditation, and reiterated the idea that – if focusing on your breath – if your attention drifts to something else or you notice yourself thinking… you just bring your attention back to the breath. And, most importantly, start again with no judgement. Each time we find ourselves focusing on what to cook for dinner, or thinking about the deadline we have coming up, it is a reminder that we can simply bring our attention back to the breath. Each time we notice it, it is a chance to start again. No judgement.

This is a simple, yet overlooked mindset that we should apply to our personal lives. It is incredibly powerful to realise and remind ourselves that at any point we can start again. Or, arguably, we can simply start.

One of the common obstacles in the counselling room is the judgement that the person cannot start again with that goal they had; they can’t just change how things are; they do not allow themselves to do something differently; start again with a new project. The list is long. And I always notice – as does the person sitting opposite me – how much better things would be if it wasn’t for the judgement of starting again.

Yes – there might be practical elements to consider when starting again. And I do not minimise the struggle of doing so. What I argue for is challenging the idea that starting again is a negative thing, a sign that we have failed or that we are not good enough.

Some of the conversations that I have are about challenging the ideas and beliefs that someone might hold that prevents them from growing, moving forward, or being happy.

We create obstacles that, with a bit of prompting, we realise only we can remove. Counselling helps to challenge those beliefs and find a new way of being, and gives you permission to step into a new life – one that is free of judgement and constraint.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Reparenting – What We Missed As Children

It is important to stress that this is in no way a criticism of anyone’s parenting – this is about acknowledging what we missed when we were young and finding a way to give it to ourselves. It might even be about giving ourselves permission.

It is also important to stress that parenting is difficult at the best of times – the simple act of managing the logistics and practical side of things, let alone making sure that we are addressing the emotional development of someone who is fragile, who depends on us for everything… is not a straightforward task. And that is why it is very likely that our parents (and we will) get things wrong.

In doing the best we can, and in putting our energy into a select number of things (we only have limited time, attention, energy), we are inevitably going to forget to do something else. Sometimes that means we forget to reassure our children; sometimes it means we forget to give them unconditional love; sometimes it means we scold them more than we would like. The list will grow the older they get. Similarly, our parents would have done the same.

Unfortunately, in doing what they thought best – in trying as hard as they could – they neglected a few things. And those things stick with us over time, and become our beliefs about ourselves (e.g. we need to be a certain way to receive praise) or others (e.g. people are unreliable). Until it becomes an issue, we don’t always have the space to question those beliefs, let alone choose new ones. And so we go through life compromising our values, giving in to those insecurities and needing approval of others; or we never allow ourselves to accept or receive love; or we pretend to be something that we are not.

Once we acknowledge what we didn’t have as children – which is a difficult task in itself – we can see patterns in our current behaviour. And from here we can start to make real changes. It is then about finding a way to give ourselves the very things we didn’t get as children – emotional warmth, praise, reassurance, acceptance, comfort, safety, love.

Counselling is the space to explore what we experienced as children from a compassionate point of view – it is never about blame. It is important to process the feelings that come up and then move towards giving ourselves that very thing we missed. What can sometimes manifest as unhealthy or unhelpful ways of coping, is simply our younger selves doing whatever it takes to get our needs met. With a new awareness, we can work through healthy and helpful ways to give ourselves those things we crave. There is often apprehension or resistance, but with practice it becomes a new belief and way of being.

It is vital that we pay attention to those feelings, those needs, and find ways to give ourselves permission to heal and feel satisfied and happy with who we are.

Why communicating with others can be so difficult

I am often reminded of the difficulty in communicating our needs, and getting the response that we wish for. I speak with a lot of people who talk about not feeling understood by others. Or they feel that their feelings are being dismissed, ignored or made to feel unimportant. It is a profoundly difficult task – to speak with someone we are close with and get the response that we are hoping for. My experience tells me that there are four main points where this could fall apart.

1. The first and second part are quite similar yet discrete. To be able to communicate our needs we need to first know how we are feeling. And that is not at all simple. It is all too common to be aware of what we are thinking but less common to know what we are feeling. I love working with people where this is the focus, because it is under-rated and overlooked. It often takes people by surprise. “I feel bad” — but what does that really mean? Is it loneliness, rejection, sadness, fear, concern? And how do you know that? How does it feel in the body? Counselling is a great place to build a useful emotional vocabulary and bodily awareness, which leads onto the second point.

2. Communicating our needs also requires the right words, timing and presentation. We need to explain it well so that someone else can stand a better chance of understanding us. You might know that feeling intimately, that it is a sadness that needs reassurance from a parent. But you can’t find the right words. This can often be quite straightforward – working out what to say so that there’s a clear explanation for how you feel and what you need. It could also be about developing perspective so that you know how and when to speak to someone. I always advocate for speaking with partners, family members or friends during ‘peacetime’, when things are calm and quiet – use that time to outline how you feel when they offer solutions instead of reassurance or just listening, and give them guidance of what would help you.

3. The other person (or people) now need to hear you, and understand you. And, at this point, there is not a whole lot we can do if we have already found the words that fit, and spoken to them away from highly emotional situations. This is definitely a point where the communication can go wrong, and it seems mostly out of our control. What we can do is to gently correct them. If they use words that we haven’t used, or label feelings that don’t quite sit with what we are experiencing then it is important to say so. The difficult part is that it is now about thinking on your feet, and avoiding phrases like, “No you got that wrong” or “No, you don’t get it”. This is about a collaboration, not about pointing fingers or widening the gap between the two of you. Work out where the misunderstanding is and help them to make sense of it.

4. We now hope that the other person will respond in a way that helps us to feel understood, important and accepted. There is a great video called “It Is Not About The Nail” that beautifully illustrates that, sometimes, all we need is someone to listen to us and not offer solutions. Being given answers for what we should or could be doing can leave us feeling disempowered. I saw a post from a father a while back (I wish I could link to it) that outlined the three ‘responses’ he offers his daughters: Do you want me to just listen? Do you want me to offer guidance? Do you want me to get involved? It is so simple but would solve many of the issues with communication. We think we know what the other person needs, but sometimes it is perfectly OK to ask them. Similarly, it is perfectly OK to tell someone what you need — “I have an issue that I want to talk to you about. I need you to just listen please”.

It is not an easy task, but if we can spend time practising how to do each of the steps, and involving a partner or family member, we stand a better chance of being understood and getting the response we are hoping for. Being in dialogue with others can be tricky, let alone when emotions are high. Try and find a way to express yourself and get the support that you need.

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash