Category Archives: Self-Esteem

“But I have already talked about it. What good will it do to talk about it again?”

It is a common belief that once someone has talked about a traumatic event, they should not need to talk about it again. And I can completely see why it feels that way especially if they felt better or gained some relief from doing so. It feels as if the first time should have been enough, and in some ways it does feel like it is enough. And yet there are always instances in which those traumatic events, large and small, still follow the person into the present day.

I urge anyone who has had any sort of trauma in their life to challenge the belief that once is enough. It is important to give yourself the space to process any lingering emotion as many times as is needed. There is simply no ‘expiry date’ for such things. We need to be more compassionate to our trauma and how we are feeling.

In some ways, children show us how it could be done. They are prone to repeating stories endlessly – and it is so important that they do so. It is their way of processing what happened, and a way of organising their thoughts. Without the repetition and attentive audience, they are unable to properly remember what happened or to move past it.

To assume that because adults are older and wiser they do not need the same experience of repetition is detrimental to our emotional health. We owe it to ourselves to share the trauma and experiences as many times as we need.

As with children, it allows us a chance to organise things properly and to make sense of things. There is also the potential that something new is discovered along the way, with a slightly different perspective offered as a result of sharing again. With the right listener, whether that is a counsellor, friend or family member, the right questions will be asked that allows the person to reflect on their experiences. To make it even more meaningful, there might even be meaningful reflections that allow the person to feel safer in the present and looking towards the future. It might allow the person to feel more secure in themselves if they know how to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

Exploring past events more than once allows a space to empower ourselves so that we feel more in control of things, rather than feeling like our memories and feelings control us.

Give yourself whatever is needed so that you can move into the next chapter.

Photo by John T on Unsplash

“We Don’t See Things As They Are, We See Them As We Are”

This has been credited to Anaïs Nin, but supposedly found in other, earlier texts, too. I like it because it captures something fundamental about ourselves and the world. It reminds me that we see everything around us through a subjective lens, which has become such a part of who we are that we rarely reflect on it, let alone question it.

Part of counselling is about increasing our awareness of how that lens (or how our set of beliefs) affect the way that we interpret the world and see people’s actions. I often use the example of a friend walking past me and not stopping to talk. I could interpret that as my friend not liking me (if I believed I was unlikeable, or that others only spend time with me when it is convenient for them), or I could interpret it as them being so busy they didn’t see me (if I believe other people to be fundamentally good, and that I am not always at the forefront of people’s awareness). Same event, different interpretations.

How we interpret things is based on what happened to us when we were younger. Counselling is where you can identify those beliefs but it is also possible to do at home. The beliefs can be grouped into three areas.

The first set of beliefs is how we see ourselves. We can explore this through completing statements such as:

  • I am… (good, kind, bad, a hindrance)
  • I deserve… (good things, bad things, to be ignored, to be hurt, to be loved)
  • I should… (always try my hardest, come first place, love myself, put my feelings first)
  • I can… (do anything, try harder)

The second set of beliefs is about other people. Think about things such as ;

  • Other people are… (untrustworthy, reliable, unsafe, unpredictable, mean)
  • Other people should… (leave me alone, put my needs first, trust me)
  • Other people will… (let me down, betray me, see that I’m a fake, get it wrong)

The third set of beliefs is about the world and is more abstract – there is also a lot of crossover to the other areas. It’s best to reflect on the views of ‘the world’ without any specific statements or restrictions. It could be that the world is safe or terrifying; predictable or chaotic; confusing or reassuring; neutral or biased; free or determined. It might be that karma features in how the world is perceived, or that actions have consequences; it could be that the world is interconnected or completely separated. This helps to put context to the behaviour of the people in it, especially if there is a significant overriding ‘rule’ or set of expectations.

Once a set of beliefs has been established, it is worth spending some time looking at each of them and deciding whether those beliefs are helpful or a hindrance; healthy or damaging; accurate or outdated/biased. Focus on those three areas.

Questions you might ask could be;

  • Is this helpful to me / my well-being? Is it in my best interest?
  • What is this based on? Is there any evidence for this belief?
  • Is this my belief, or have I internalised this from someone else?
  • Was this true at one point but now needs updating / changing?

You will then have a set of beliefs that you are happy to maintain, and a set of beliefs you want to let go of or uproot. This is your plan of action. Work at it in whatever way suits you. You could focus on the positive ones, and keep repeating them; keep doing things that reaffirm those beliefs; give yourself mantras to repeat throughout the day. Or you could notice every time you think something that triggers one of the unhelpful beliefs, and ask yourself those questions – is this thought or belief helpful, accurate, healthy?

Counselling can be about exploring where those beliefs came from and it can be about challenging and replacing those sets of beliefs that are holding you back. I believe each and every one of us has the ability to choose how they would like to live by increasing awareness of how we live and taking small actions that move us closer to feeling better.

As always, get in touch if you want to talk about how counselling can help you identify those beliefs that are unhelpful, or to introduce more helpful beliefs.

Take care.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Difficulty sleeping?

It is important to state that this is not a replacement for an appropriate consultation with a medical professional who is experienced in managing sleep difficulties. What follows is what has helped me in my personal life and some of the clients that I have seen. After discussing what seems to be the most common issue and most helpful strategy, I will outline other things that have helped.

The most common obstacle to falling asleep seems to be the inability to ‘switch off’ – people talk about lying away in bed, feeling physically tired, but their brain is still racing. Of course, there will be other reasons that some people cannot fall asleep but this seems to be the most common. And what has helped them seems to be a variation of getting out of bed and addressing reasons that their brain is still racing.

A lot of people talk about the seemingly endless list of things they need to do the following day, and there is a part of them that is worried that they will forget one of the things on the list; they may be anxious that they will wake up late and miss the appointment or deadline; they might be anxious that they should be doing work instead of sleeping. Anxiety can be overwhelming in moments like this – especially when we need to sleep.

Counselling can help manage the anxiety and feelings of not being good enough. It helps to address core beliefs of not being smart enough, or never working hard enough, and helps people to see that, in fact, they are doing enough. Working on the root cause of the anxiety helps them to realise how much they are achieving, and helps them to feel more secure and safe in what they are doing.

Counselling can also be about outlining simple strategies to manage the anxious thoughts in the moment. Sometimes it helps to get out of bed and write down the list of things that need doing so that we don’t worry we will forget anything. It sometimes helps to plan the following day with what needs completing and by when. Spending a little bit of time with a visual representation of the tasks that are keeping you awake, brings a sense of calm and order into things. Anxiety can often feel chaotic, and if we gently introduce some order and boundaries, things can start to feel less overwhelming.

As always – get in touch if you want to discuss anything that has been mentioned. Counselling is a great space to work on those areas that directly and indirectly affect sleep. Sometimes it’s something simple, and other times it’s something deeper. With a little practice and support, it’s not an impossible goal to sleep and feel better.

And for other things that have helped me:

Physical

  • Physical movement – any exercise that gets my heart rate up, and pushes me a bit each time, in the first half of the day, seems to help. There’s also research that links increased physical activity with improved mood!
  • Magnesium – I take this daily for a number of reasons but there’s a lot of talk that it helps promote restful sleep. A lot of us are supposedly deficient in this, so worth looking into it!
  • Starting again – I find that if I haven’t fallen asleep within a certain (short) period, it’s worth getting out of bed and trying again a bit later. Spending that time doing something to relax my body and brain is important – deep breathing, light stretches – rather than forcing myself to fall asleep and then becoming frustrated when I don’t. Someone described it to me as not sitting at the dinner table and forcing yourself to eat when you are not hungry. Pay attention to the signals of being tired!
  • Consistency – Even on weekends, I find it helps to wake up at the same time every day (or as close as possible..). This apparently helps with sleep cycle and our internal body clock.
  • Avoid caffeine – not entirely, of course, but I avoid having caffeine later than around lunch time. The half-life of caffeine – the time required for the body to eliminate one-half of a dose – varies between individuals but can be between 3 and 7 hours.

Environment

  • Blue light – apparently the blue light from our screens (TV, laptop, smartphones) disrupts the release of melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep). I have a pair of the glasses that seem to help, and I have a blue light filter on my phone.
  • Low light – not only does this make the rooms more relaxing and appealing (personal preference) having low light in all the rooms apparently prepares the brain for sleep. If I surround myself with bright white light, I find it harder to fall asleep.
  • Bedroom – make this a quiet, calming and peaceful space. Avoid having clutter in the room; avoid TV screens if possible; avoid bright colours.

Reading also helps me to drift off to sleep. And be selective with what you read because reading non-fiction supposedly activates a part of the brain that needs to switch off for us to fall asleep!

Take care.

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.

On Being Fragile Together

I stumbled upon this poem the other day and it’s made me think a lot about our individual and collective situations – especially at the moment with social distancing and some lock-down measures still in place.

Fragile – Nic Askew

Not only am I fond of the aesthetics of the poem, but the message resonates deeply with me, and I see it all the time in the counselling room. We are prone to feel that we are suffering alone or, more often, we think others are happier and more successful. This is not a new idea, but the words of the poem put it so succinctly and beautifully. I wanted to look at a couple lines in particular:

“Though we act strong” — this speaks to the part of us that is drawn to putting on a front, a face, that says that we are doing just fine. We do not feel ready or vulnerable enough to share our innermost struggles and feelings. We fear that, if shared, we would be telling everyone that we are not not good enough, that we are failing. But the truth is quite different – if we were to share with others how we are feeling, we would normalise it so that others can share; we would be creating a space to receive guidance and help; we would be creating a more honest and useful dynamic between us and others. It is being vulnerable that people struggle with, and there is an art in learning how to do just that so that it does not feel too damaging, too scary. Bit by bit, we can learn to not act at all, but to bring our authentic self to the conversation. In being authentic, we also feel more at ease with ourselves and others; others, too, can begin to share their authentic selves, rather than trying to reach a certain ideal.

“If we were to turn to each other” — although this speaks more of turning our attention to others and seeing their fragility, too, I like to think of it in the sense of connection with others. If we can learn to reach out to others, learn to be vulnerable and share how we are feeling then we can also experience a deeper connection with others. Often, people speak in the counselling room about a superficial connection with others that they are desperate to change; or they share experiences of relationships that don’t satisfy them, that don’t give them that satisfaction. One of the reasons for this is that we sometimes learn to relate to others in a way that keeps our authentic self hidden, and we do not risk connecting to others in meaningful ways. It is too risky, and requires us to be vulnerable. But the truth is that, once learned, it is a powerful way of being – to connect to others in authentic and meaningful ways allows for our needs to be met because we are able to communicate with others. We can recognise how we are feeling and we can tell others. In doing so, we enrich our relationships and the lives of others.

Counselling is a place to do both of these things. It is a place to recognise how we are feeling and find the courage to express those thoughts and feelings to others, so that we are living in alignment.

When our inner thoughts match our external voice, we tend to find less conflict and more harmony. It feels terrifying but it can be learned bit by bit. In being more authentic we also allow others to be more authentic.

We are social beings, and it is important that we recognise the importance of connection with others. We need to cultivate meaningful connections through authenticity and being vulnerable in those moments that don’t feel too overwhelming.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Big Anxiety, Little You

Anxiety can affect people in different ways, and this analogy might not work for you but I believe it will work for a lot of people. I’ve always been fond of understanding anxiety as a sort of miscalculation of two things – the perceived or potential threat; and of yourself. It seems to be a fairly consistent narrative, that whatever it is that is causing the person distress (or anxiety) is presently understood as a BIG threat, and that the image of the person is that they are small and incapable, especially in dealing with the threat. I am not trying to over-simplify the matter (as anxiety can often be crippling and all-consuming) but if we can work out how to adjust the perception of both those things then I believe we can reintroduce a bit more control and stability into your life.

One of the things that we can explore is your self-image. How you see yourself can play a big role in your level of anxiety. If you believe yourself to be untrustworthy, unreliable, incapable, ‘not good enough’ then you are quite likely to feel anxious at the idea of tackling a problem. These messages might not be something you actively choose unfortunately, but nonetheless are messages you carry. They may have been given to you, or forced upon you, by others – this may be intentional or not. The messages may have been given to you by the media or the culture you grew up in. Regardless, it’s important to address the beliefs you have about yourself. It is important to develop a more realistic and positive sense of self. You might not be aware of those thoughts, in which case we can look at your inner, deeper beliefs about yourself of which you may not be consciously aware. These deeper beliefs affect all of us in endless ways, and it is important to be aware of our own beliefs if we are to ever live more honestly and in the present.

A lot of counselling can be about self-image and how you see yourself, and challenging those statements in a non-judgemental way. And that’s important – it’s done so in a supportive and encouraging way so that you don’t feel attacked. It’s about bringing awareness to the unhelpful, unhealthy ways in which you may see yourself. The deeper work, if that’s necessary, can be about exploring where the beliefs came from and introducing other beliefs – that you are capable and have managed things this far.

Another part of counselling is exploring the perceived threat – what about that thing is so scary or overwhelming? What makes that thing so intimidating? Where did that idea come from? Is there another way to look at the thing, the object, the event? Or, is it simply a matter of problem solving, and working out a way to tackle the problem head on. Through counselling, it is possible to develop your confidence, your problem solving skills and, with a little practice, your resiliency. The latter refers to moments when it might go wrong but you acknowledge it and try again – there is often a fear around those things that cause anxiety, a fear that says that it’s not worth trying. And when we don’t try something, we reaffirm that belief that we are incapable, that the threat – the thing that causes us anxiety – is, in fact, threatening and impossible to overcome. It is a slow and steady exposure to the thing that causes anxiety, to failure, that reminds us that we are alright, despite what the anxiety is trying to tell us. That if we fail, it’s ok and we are safe and things are going to be alright.

Counselling for some forms of anxiety, can be about

  • Exploring and addressing how you see yourself
  • Developing your self-esteem and confidence
  • Challenging beliefs that you have of yourself, and introducing healthier ones
  • Exploring and dissecting the event or thing that causes anxiety
  • Identifying strategies to manage the anxiety or navigate the event/threat
  • Gentle and appropriate exposure to the event or thing to demonstrate your abilities

There will be other ways to develop the way you manage anxiety, including mindfulness and being more present, rather than getting stuck in a future of potential ‘worst case scenarios’. Once the anxiety is talked about, it slowly becomes less present, less significant and you can realise your potential to manage things without an overwhelming sense of not being good enough.

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