therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: self-improvement

Why do assertiveness training?

I’m halfway through an assertiveness training course and it’s been a real revelation, as if somehow everything makes sense. I’m very happy with how it’s progressing and wrote about it in detail here:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/assertiveness-training-course-interim-review/

But what brought me to the point where I felt that an assertiveness training course would be beneficial for me? It was something I’d had in the back of my mind for years, but a recent fairly trivial event in my personal life had me thinking ‘I wish I knew what to say here’, whereas in reality I dealt with the situation in my normal manner, namely pretending it didn’t bother me. On the inside I got more and more annoyed and frustrated, sounding off to friends instead of dealing directly with the people involved. The people involved didn’t know how I really felt.

I know you have to pick your battles, but when you spend a lot of your life believing that your feelings are invalid, it clouds your ability to figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t.

Learning the assertive way really helps, because being assertive means listening to yourself and being attentive to your own needs. It means being able to stand up for yourself when it is appropriate to do so. It means recognising what is worth your precious, finite energy, and what isn’t. And the way in which you act is so much more pleasant to others, because they know what they can expect from you. They find themselves feeling relaxed and happy around you, instead of having a general sense of unease but not being able to put their finger on it.

Although I have struggled with being overly aggressive at times in my life, my main problem at the time of taking on this course was acting too passively. Many that know me now wouldn’t think I’m a passive person but that’s largely because I work so hard at hiding my passive tendencies because they have not served me well in the past. Now I have decided I want to let them go once and for all.

These were some of the things I found myself doing, some recently and some not so recently. I started to pick myself up on a few of these things:

  • Agreeing with the general consensus way too often, even though I have opinions to the contrary.
  • Pretending something doesn’t upset me when it does
  • Saying things are fine when they are not to avoid a fuss
  • Avoiding people in order to side-step talking about an issue
  • Bending over backwards to please others
  • Ordering my own life around others, even those who are not close to me and don’t care about my efforts
  • Abandoning my own opinions, values, belief and judgments and being easily swayed by other people whose ideas were contrary to mine
  • Uncertainly about my own mind because I was always so willing to go along with others and let them decide things for me
  • Lack of disclosure about myself to others that I’m never going to get to know on a personal basis, because there seems little point ‘being myself’
  • Being unable to say no if someone wanted to employ me/ go out with me/ select me for something – they would make the decision and I would be powerless to resist
  • The constant nagging feeling that I am inferior to everybody else
  • Conviction that I can’t rely on myself to be consistent in my decision-making
  • Feeling that I can’t trust myself to have control over my own communication
  • Belief that my self-confidence fluctuates like the weather and is therefore not something I can control
  • Inability to say what I really mean in the moment without it turning into either self-pitying or aggressive remarks/behaviour
  • Angry outbursts when communication becomes simply too frustrating
  • Being unfairly judgmental and harsh towards others, but keeping these opinions to myself. Not valuing others as individuals perhaps because I didn’t value myself and our collective rights

That list was longer than I was expecting and makes me sound like I really had it bad and went through life in a depressive, submissive and powerless way. I didn’t – not for the last 2 years anyway. In fact, to the contrary I have better confidence now than at any other period of my life. I have good self-knowledge having spent years already working on myself. I have the best attitude towards the future I’ve ever had, largely because I’ve a lot to be happy about but also because I’ve the developed the skills needed to cope with life, whatever happens.

The passive person spends much of their time lying both to themselves and to others. This is hugely counterproductive and very destructive. Others may feel guilty for taking advantage of the passive person, or superior because their passive behaviour marks them as inferior. Probably others will feel irritation and pity towards the passive person and may cease to respect them. I was very intrigued to learn that others may actually feel awkward around passive people – because they cannot know what the passive person wants or likes. And of course, that makes perfect sense. Being around an assertive person makes them feel great, because they know you’ll always be honest and say what you really think. You’re open. People like that. So, to be a true ‘people pleaser’, if that’s in your nature, be assertive because that way people will feel safe and know what to expect around you.

Self-deprecation seems to be part of the British sense of humour but it can mask a seriously damaging self-image. Putting yourself down, like I do quite a lot, isn’t really a very nice thing to do – after all, if you wouldn’t speak of others in that way, why talk to yourself like that, e.g “I’m so stupid”, “Could I be any more pathetic”? If you’re a passive person, take the time to pay attention to your self-talk because it might be feeding an unhealthy self-image.

Passive people may make few demands of others, but make unrealistically high demands of themselves which they are bound to fail to meet. It is the same low opinion of oneself that makes passive people put others first, belittle their own views, and seek approval from others above all else. Really it comes down to a lack of self-esteem, and a double standard when applied to other people’s rights and opinions as opposed to one’s own. Why should we treat ourselves with any less respect than that which we afford to others? Surely, if we want to be respected we must respect ourselves first?

What I’ve written about here are the slow penny-drops of the passive person. I’m finally starting to face up to the less-than-perfect communication style I have, and problems with self-esteem and self-image. The specific goals I have with learning assertiveness include having more control over my communication; experiencing a better quality of life with overall needs being met; having the tools to deal with uncertain or unpredictable situations; having less anxiety (especially first thing in the morning when I can feel quite daunted by the day ahead); having more respect from strangers and loved ones alike; being better able to command attention; and having improved wellbeing overall as not so much is pent up.

Assertiveness is a communication style that informs all our interactions with others, but it really starts with recognising what is lacking in our own self-opinion. Only when you’ve accepted your own individual rights as the foundation for living life can the assertive way take hold and flourish. Breaking the patterns of the past is no mean feat and certainly change can be very wrenching and even destructive if you’re not prepared for all that it can entail. But when you’re ready to take control of life and to break the bad habits of the past, it can be very, very liberating.

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Assertiveness training course interim review.

“Forthright, positive, insistence on the recognition of one’s rights” – Oxford English Dictionary

Assertive is a style of communication which contrasts with the passive, aggressive or manipulative styles. It is a way of expressing our needs while at the same time recognising that they are no more important or less important than the needs of others. When we act assertively, we are respectful of others, understanding that both parties are equal and accepting that someone else may say no or disagree with our viewpoint. Assertive people communicate clearly, directly, openly and honestly. And yet the assertive person can recognise in fact when to act assertively and when it may be strategic to lie, to walk away, back down, to be deliberately passive or aggressive.

The training course I’m currently attending at a local branch of Mind (a mental health charity operating across the UK) has been instrumental in helping me to see where my communication falls down and what I’m doing wrong. The reasons why I felt I needed assertiveness training are available in this post:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/why-do-assertiveness-training/

It has challenged me in quite significant ways which have sometimes felt a little uncomfortable but not as uneasy as some of the exercises on my recent psychodynamic counselling course. That’s because the nature of assertiveness training is essentially forward-looking.

With assertiveness being the goal there is the inbuilt premise that change is possible. One has to believe in change in order to achieve an identifiable goal. We spent the first session understanding the cycle of change adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente. Upheaval brings with it pros as well as cons and can be a painful journey, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons it is a risk worth taking. There was a degree of healthy self-examination in the first couple of sessions as we pause to understand the rights we all have as individuals. This is the basis that must be understood if any lasting changes in our interactions with others can be made. What it calls for is an acceptance of certain rights which are:

  1. To state our own needs
  2. To be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  3. To express our feelings
  4. To express our opinions and values
  5. To say “yes” or “no” for ourselves
  6. To make mistakes
  7. To change our minds
  8. To say I do not understand
  9. To ask for what we want
  10. To decline responsibility for other people’s problems
  11. To not be dependent on others for approval
  12. To be unassertive

For many on the course, myself included, this brought a painful realisation of the rights we had denied ourselves over the years, perhaps over entire lifetimes so far. For me the ones I selected as needing the most work were 6. To make mistakes and 7. To change our minds. I was brought up believing that to make mistakes was a sign of weakness – and when I did make a mistake, I certainly didn’t own up to it, because it was so shameful! Similarly with 7, I guess there was an assumption I latched onto as a child that to change your mind was a sign of a weak character. The assumption went unchallenged and was in fact fed by significant others in my life for so many years that reading this Bill of Rights in class made me feel kind of emotional. It was like a great veil had been lifted and finally the unspoken could be said out loud. The great realisation was that I wasn’t weak or stupid if I changed my mind. I am human and it is my right, like it is everyone’s right.

The Bill of Rights is the absolute foundation on which assertiveness is built. If you believe deeply that you are entitled to those fundamentals, then what we call ‘assertiveness’ logically follows.

The first technique learned on the course was the ‘I’ statement. It can be used to ask for what we want or to state when a given situation is not working well for us and we want to change something. We express clearly what we really think and feel. We take responsibility for ourselves. We don’t blame or attack others, and stay calm throughout. We only talk about how something affects us (and what we’d like as an outcome) so there is less to argue about. The ‘I’ statement deals with facts, feelings and expectations.

The format of the ‘I’ statement has three parts to it, namely “I feel”… “When”… “What I would really appreciate is”…. To use it successfully, you must always keep the outcome in mind and be specific and concise about it. Crucially, you do not allow yourself to be dragged in to another discussion. You stick to your own agenda. You simply state your case using repetition if necessary and if that is not getting through, it’s fine to say “I’ve told you what I think, it’s up to you what you do with that.” Body language and tone of voice are key. The assertive way keeps in mind that 70%, or whatever the science says this week, of communication is non-verbal.

When we began to practise ‘I’ statements it soon became apparent that even in the safety of the classroom people found it jarring to say “I feel upset by”. The high value placed on feelings in this mode of communication is somewhat at odds with the culture we live in, in which feelings are not readily talked about. Many environments it’s simply not appropriate to talk of our feelings, such as the workplace or interactions with a stranger. The course leader made a very valid point regarding how we can subtly shift the language we use in accordance with the setting. In our culture at large, feelings are not valued but opinions are king. We reformulate our statement as the opinion, “I think it isn’t fair” instead of emotive language, “I feel upset by”.

After learning about ‘I’ statements we moved on to Saying No. This was something that many in the group struggled with. A cliché abounds of a typically passive, doormat-type person who gets persuaded and manipulated into saying, doing, and buying things they don’t want. A whole industry preys on these kinds of people. Perhaps they ‘don’t’ want to make a fuss’ or their motto is ‘anything for a quiet life’. They feel they will let people down or upset them if they refuse a request. This stereotype has some truth to it.

However we have a right to say no. Saying no doesn’t mean rejecting the person, it simply means refusing the request. When you say no, you must actually use the word ‘no’ – not ‘I’m not sure’, ‘it’s not a good time’, ‘I don’t think so’ ‘I’m too tired’, or any other evasion. The other person will be thinking that your answer is simply a preamble to negotiations.

So, clarity is key when saying no. When you are clear, people are less likely to pressure you because they have already heard your answer. They know where they stand. Also, a convoluted answer full of apologies, justifications and guilt can be uncomfortable for the other person to hear.

It’s really very freeing to know that we do all have the right to say no. Again it comes back to the Bill of Rights that we learned in the first session, and being committed to accepting those rights. If other people feel bad about our refusal of their request or try to make us feel guilty or duty-bound to comply, that’s their problem. Realising this is like a huge weight has been lifted from the shoulders of those whose sense of self comes – strange as it sounds – from compliance with others.

What this course has given me so far is permission to stand up for myself. Yes, we all have the right to state our needs. Yes, we all have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems. Yes, we all have the right to be treated with respect as intelligent, capable and equal human beings.

Being aware of our rights is more empowering than any of the individual techniques and exercises that we have learned so far, although they have been very helpful and eye-opening too. The effect of sitting in a room with other human beings who all now share the knowledge of our rights makes it very real. This has been the real surprise of the course. Undoing our disempowered self-image and replacing it with one in which we are allowed to express ourselves. That is the key to assertiveness.

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Love. Newness. Dependency. Cathexis.

While I’m somewhat stagnant in getting to my goals at the moment, I am spending more of my time connecting with fellow bloggers. Thrillingly, I see a lot of parallels between those whose journeys I find particular interesting, and my own. There is a common thread of love binding us, a vibration in our collective consciousness. We are individuals who write about self-discovery, spiritual empowerment, becoming better people, loving others, achieving good mental health. We share something. These bloggers have come into my life at a time when I am reaching a hand into the darkness.

I want to thank everyone that has showed me an alternative to self-hating, self-blaming and seeing the world as a hostile place. I understand now that it is my destiny to create something good for myself and others. This thing’ is my life’s work. I will make whatever it is from scratch and share it with others. I will use everything in me to make this a reality. I am entering into a vibration of its newness. I have written before about being in a transitional state, having lost lots of things and now readjusting. This is ongoing, but I am allowing myself to believe in the next step – aligning with the vibration of the good that it is in my power alone to manifest.

In the meantime, I am filling my cup with learnings from The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. In my last post I wrote about the idea that falling in love is essentially a trick played on us by biology, vs real love which Peck defines as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Real love requires effort, discipline and commitment to growth, long after the butterflies associated with ‘falling in love’ have taken flight.

I very much enjoy Peck’s style which is at times as brutal as it can be gentle. On the subject of dependency, which is sometimes confused with love, Peck writes, “when you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual”. Love is the free exercise of choice. It is when two people are quite capable of living separately, but choose to live with each other. Dependency, then, is “the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another”. It is a pathological sickness, a mental illness or defect. Yet, every single one of us has desires to be cared for by someone stronger than us with no effort on our part.

I wonder how many of us can truly say we have never been dependent? I can’t. Though not dependent by nature (in fact, happiest when I can express my fierce independence in my own eccentric way), I have certainly been sucked into another’s dramatic dependency needs. I fostered dependency out of a misplaced sense of duty. Such passive-dependents are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love. Their inner emptiness can never be filled, so they move from one partner to another, constantly seeking relationships that may while seeming intense and dramatic are in fact extremely shallow.

Genuine love is a self-replenishing activity in which the self is enlarged rather than diminished. It involves a change in the self, but one of extension rather than sacrifice. The aim of real love is always spiritual growth. Further, love is an action, not a feeling. A genuinely loving person will take a loving action even towards an individual she consciously dislikes. I am not this spiritually advanced yet, and I cannot guarantee that love towards my fellow man is always the choice I make. I am trying.

Peck makes a distinction between the action of real love and the feeling of cathecting. To cathect means ‘to invest emotion or feeling in (an idea, object, or another person).’ There is a misconception that love is a feeling because we confuse cathecting with loving. We can cathect a person without caring for their spiritual development. The passive dependent in fact usually fears the spiritual development of her cathected partner. Genuine love isn’t an overwhelming feeling, it is a committed decision.

I have been thinking about my mother and how all my life I’ve been the object of her cathexis. Her love for me is not such that she would like to see me grow to fulfil my unique potential, to be the very best I can be. Her love consists of keeping things the way they’ve always been. She wants to shield me from the outside world. She wants to keep me close, forever. She desperately seeks to influence me. Her love is conditional upon my upholding certain religious values and social conventions that she holds dear.

From the earliest age, I was taught that the world was a hostile place. My mother would scare me into believing that there were rapists and murderers hiding around every corner, waiting to pounce. My worldview growing up was that I had no power, and that those with power would abuse it. Bogeymen, ghosts, spirits and devils were real. I was taught to believe in a vengeful God that you can never please except through a lifetime of servitude and self-sacrifice. I thought, until surprisingly recently, that people were out to get me. Even those that seemed nice initially would turn ugly, according to her. Men were not to be trusted; no-one was.

The worldview and the coddling that she gave me served their purpose, and I love her for it. It is my triumph that despite some of the more distressing and regretful aspects I was forcefed growing up, I am not only being influenced by the wonderful, hopeful works of others but I can feel them changing me fundamentally all the way through.

The active mind.

“How wild it was, to let it be.” ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild

At last night’s meditation class, I had a startling realisation. I can’t meditate! It was freeing. Things we had learned were reiterated: meditation is the ability to look inside yourself. Breath is connected to thought. Sound is to do with emotion. You become the observer of your thoughts, like an audience watching a play, without making the drama a reality. Meditation is said to give energy, and for this reason it is wise to meditate in the morning.

We were instructed to focus on the sound of the heartbeat without consciously trying to stop, slow, or control thoughts. Apparently, by carrying on like this, eventually during the meditation and perhaps after some practice, it is possible to transcend them. It seems like an impossible game. It seems exactly like ‘the game’ – that you lose by remembering the fact that you’re playing the game. During this session’s 45 minute meditation, I believe I truly meditated for no more than 15 seconds. I started feeling a little sleepy towards the end but that was drifting off, not meditating.

For all the talking and writing I do about hardcore meditating, even running a group in which guided meditation is an important part of it, I have never really been able to do it. I enjoy trying and I like the idea of it, but it’s beyond my spiritual capabilities at the moment. I sit there and think, think, think, about every subject under the sun from pop trivia to people I know to mundane matters. I cannot sit still. This is the hardest part for me. I know it’s going to be 45 minutes and I feel every second of it and it practically aches. I don’t have the discipline when it comes to sitting still, doing nothing, thinking nothing. It is literally beyond me.

I know meditation isn’t easy, in fact it’s incredibly difficult. But I have tried it so many times with many different leaders and approaches. Nothing sticks. I’m fine with that, it’s not my time, it’s not in my scope of possibility yet. I’m stubborn so I probably will continue with it, only now I have no expectations.

I think my path is going to be one that’s more jubilant, joyful and active. I’ve heard of ecstatic dance in a few cities and it’s something I’d like to try, maybe in California. I would rather connect outwards than inwards, and use and feel my body and be joyful rather than focussing on the impossible. I’ve started going to acting improvisation classes, which is wonderfully terrifying. It’s early days but I enjoyed the first session and felt like I was alive and not wrapped in the suffocating comfort of home.

There were many exercises including forum theatre, where the two actors improvising a scene change their situation on the audience’s command. There was an activity in the round which a new participant would join a scene and when they do, they change it, and then when the whole group was involved, the same process each time an actor left. There was an activity in which one person reads lines from a script without deviating from that, and the other adlibs. That particular one was such a hoot and I laughed uncontrollably – not great when it was my scene but a real chance to give in to the moment while watching the other performers. There is a chance that down the line we may be able to put on a show at the theatre space where we meet.

So my mind is like that drunken monkey being bitten by a scorpion. It’s hard to shut it down through meditation but I’m not truly ready, willing or able to do that yet. And that’s just fine. It will come as I break free, as I grow up, and I pull in influences, and I experience more life, and when the time’s right. For the minute I’d rather direct it into pursuits that help connect me with others, have fun and fulfil my goal of overcoming fear.

Into the heartspace.

We’re bored. We’re all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process that created this boredom that we see in the world now may well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing created by a world totalitarian government based on money and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it’s not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who’s bored is asleep, and somebody who’s asleep will not say no? – Andre, ‘My Dinner With Andre’.

Some time has passed since the last time I wrote on therapy journey. In that time, therapy journey has turned one year old, and a new calendar year has also commenced with haste. It has been a period of readjustment and coming around. It has been a time of cold winds and hot baths; long goodbyes and short days; high hopes and low pressure; a time for shining brightly in the dark. I feel like I’ve been gathering myself up, and expressing what I am in all that I do more clearly than ever before.

I’ve cast out the old. In a literal sense, I’ve got around to a task I’d been putting off for years, namely selling, giving away or throwing out hundreds of old possessions that I no longer need. This has been a difficult operation to get my head around, as many of the things I’m disposing of still fit, are current or have plenty of use left. But I’ve realised I simply have too many of these things – mainly clothes and accessories – and rather than hang on to them while they depreciate (and for it to cost me, in various resources, for the privilege), I made the decision that it would be better for them to find a new home while they still hold some value.

It’s been a shaming but humbling experience. From the spiritual side of my being, I can say with certainty that things don’t matter. But from the point of view of minimising waste, allocating resources efficiently, enabling others, sharing my prosperity and respecting the abundance of the planet, it has been important to me that my unwanted possessions go to homes where they too can find a new lease of life until planned obsolesce kicks in, as it inevitably will. I aim to live not only more frugally but with what I already have, which is perfectly adequate in every way. Items may need to be replaced over time but at a more ambling pace. It is my hope that while adjusting to less, for every new item in my wardrobe I get rid of two already in it.

I wrote on this blog some weeks ago about the awful situation that befell me when I unexpectedly ran out of anti-depressant medication. Recently I wrote a letter to my GP informing him of exactly what my predicament was. I chose the letter format to express this because I didn’t want to miss anything out, and one can be more formal and cogent in writing. It also served to express how cut off I was when I requested his help, as I was rebuffed contact by phone and email, leaving only the medium of fax which has been entirely useless for the past fifteen years. I was jubilant after delivering the letter, if only with the hope that the doctor thinks twice about prescribing this medication without a well-thought out weaning-off method worked out. It was my own fault however, to leave for an extended trip without thinking through how to resupply, but I naively thought it would be easy.

In that letter I was able to express some of my darker moments which while I am not proud of, were important to keep hold of during my recovery. “I had an episode where I became convinced that I would kill myself, not out of depressive thoughts but because I became paranoid that the drug was intended to kill me, control me and rot my mind and I would never be free of it. I phoned a couple of my friends and they talked me round.” I am more grateful to the people (and dogs) that surrounded me and comforted me, than to the medical establishment and its wider structure of red tape and loopholes which let them off the hook.

These matters are behind me now, thankfully. Tonight I took myself off to a local meditation group in its second week. This meditation aims to go deep into the heartspace, using sound and our ability to listen to our own heartbeat to focus on emotion. This is in contrast to breath meditation in which mental thought is channelled or invoked. We allow our inner processes to interact with the outside. But we wore earplugs, so all we heard was within ourselves.

Others reported peacefulness, space around them, seeing flowers and wanting to smell them, being enveloped by a cushion that turned liquid. I have to admit that during the powerful 45 minute meditation, I didn’t feel anything profound, no vital energy bubbling up within, nor visions nor even a clearing of the mind. I felt acutely aware of my body and of time passing. I didn’t “go” anywhere. It was beyond me, a beginner, to give into the fullness of the meditative experience, especially one that wasn’t guided. We are meant to learn about our inner nature but I only learned that my energy is not settled in this place. It is shifting, it is unsettled. No matter what I do to gloss over the fact – and I am not consciously aware of it, but I found out tonight that it is wanting to return to a place that is more home than this one.

And then I realised I was the earthchild.

The title of this post comes from a creativity meditation I attended a couple of nights ago. I felt it strongly and powerfully and it made my aching soul sing just a little bit. I’ve been feeling strangely misaligned recently – that really is the best word for it. My intentions are out of kilter with my reality, my perception isn’t in accord with true nature, and I’m failing to see abundance and joy some of the time. I’m experiencing anger rising sometimes. I’m rubbing up against people’s bad sides. And I’m experiencing that most ungodly of all emotions: fear.

However this is just one small part of who I am today. Yes there’s fear, neuroticism, panic, worry, anger, paranoia and doubt. But there are also measures of true authenticity, joy, laughter, the ability to see absurdity, as well as magnetism, happiness and the pure sublime. Above all the feeling is freedom, which propels me forward in a world without limits.

My wishes for this most sacred of times, the winter solstice of the year 2014, are to trust myself, to live with authenticity and to see the abundance that is all around. I also wish to be kind to myself, although I find this concept the hardest to understand let alone put into practice. I wish to acknowledge some of my struggles of the past as I work hard to put them behind me. There is literally no time for the past.

A friend sent me the link today to an article which puts everything I wanted to say better than I ever could on this auspicious day. We learn that by facing up to our deepest, darkest emotions we can move forward.  I believe that no-one is broken and ‘healing’ is a redundant concept but I agree with the sentiment that self-forgiveness leads to the release of toxic and self-sabotaging patterns. However challenging this may prove to be, writing about it here is one of the steps to making it reality.

As part of the ‘releasing the darkness’ stage, we are urged to write an intention, and then burn the paper on which it is written, followed by smudging sage. I am not doing this myself because I can’t get my head around rituals yet, coming as I do from a tradition full of them, and finding pain and inauthenticity there. Rituals still freak me out. Nevertheless the words Syma Kharal uses are beautiful and I wanted to share them here:

“Dear Higher Self/God/Spirit/Universe: No matter what has happened in the past, I am now willing to release everything about it that brought me fear and pain. I surrender to you all that no longer serves me for healing, cleansing and purification. Help me to forgive and be forgiven by all involved. Align my vision that I may see everything from your enlightened perspective and move forward with wisdom, grace, strength and love. So be it.”

Speaking of rituals, it is my fond hope that in the future I overcome my fear of ritual and prayer, and participate in spiritual rituals in order to experience what’s called “liminality”, derived from the Latin limen meaning boundary or threshold. These boundaries might separate the sacred from the profane. A ritual is a dynamic and engaged creative prayer that allows us to set aside the time to recognise, honour and celebrate seminal aspects of life. I’m currently reading about this in ‘The Red Book’ by Sera Beak. The book is all about igniting one’s divine spark and is intended as a no-nonsense guide for young women.

It’s a very inspirational book that I wish I could have read fifteen years ago. But – no regretting the past in any way, shape or form, as the present time is all we have. That’s why the present is a gift. Beak writes that when we open ourselves up to the divine,

“[…] life becomes much  more flavorful. Profound meaning illuminates even the most mundane of events. My relationships deepen. My voice becomes clearer. My work excels. My personal issues become less draining and dramatic. I am less affected I require less outside approval. My self-confidence beams. I laugh more. I judge less. My sexuality roars. Random acts of kindness become a necessity, not just a whim. […] My perspectives are amplified. I see the world around me at much more than face value, and as a result, I make clearer choices across the board […] I realize I’m not just some well-dressed biped trudging through life but actually an incredibly powerful and integral piece of the divine pie.”

She’s a spunky chick and I aim to go deep with my learnings into my divine spark and how to enhance it and be true to myself. Remembering always that authentic divine truth never separates people from each other, countries from each other, religions from each other. I’m receiving the tiniest spark of divinity but it’s possible to smother it with too much kindling, or to let the fire go out without the right nurturing. I want to see this through. Intention is everything. There will be times when I am rude to people. There will be times I am frustrated and utterly disappointed. I will continue to be angry some of the time, because this is a divine part of me, but these will be fewer and further between, I hope, as intentions and reality align. I am the earthchild, I am divine, I am myself, I am everything and nothing.

“It’s all about paradox, mystery, meditation, sexuality, long walks, and momentous haircuts.” – Sera Beak, ‘The Red Book’.

abundance

Getting to know and tame my rebellious inner child.

So, I came back from what I call my hardcore therapy session yesterday evening fragile and quite sad. I think this the real and emotional response that I’ve tried so hard to deny and suppress, even on this difficult personal journey. The therapy in question was provided by the proper NLP-based, Integrative Arts psychotherapist that I refer to as G. I hadn’t seen her for over three weeks. I realise for sure now that I have found the right person to help me. The fact that it isn’t easy – that it’s quite uncomfortable at times and very close to the bone – helps me to appreciate that this is the right route for me.

I was taken back to childhood again, which I always find quite upsetting because I realise how lonely I felt, how I never got the memo that it’s imperative to express yourself and find out who you are, how I felt unworthy and not valid compared to others. I spent a lot of my time wishing I was someone or something else. Frustration, jealousy, selfishness and self-hatred were amongst my earliest feelings. I somehow got the wrong messages growing up. My parents never did anything wrong, like scald me harshly, or beat me, or make me feel I was worthless. On the contrary, they provided enough materially, sent me to an expensive school, encouraged me to perform well academically, provided religious guidance, and generally made my life as risk-free as possible. In short they gave me all the assurances and comforts that their parents couldn’t give to them.

What it lacked I think was being truly heard and listened to, which is something that today I desperately feel I need. I get very angry when I feel I’m not being understood, perhaps that might be because I can’t express myself clearly. I also missed having the support of a parent, someone that tells you that your dreams are valid and you should go and do the things that make your heart sing. Again today, I make totally unreasonable demands on my partner to support me unconditionally, which of course no human being alive is entitled to expect. And finally, I lacked the coping mechanism when things don’t go as I planned them. My parents made everything cushy, there were no real challenges to deal with. The voice that says ‘I want it my way’ ends up being my saboteur.

Behaviour roleplay

There are four types of behaviour that orbit the satellite of the Adult. The Adult is centred, rational, mature and grounded. There are other sides to this Adult however. There is the Nurturing Parent who shows kindness to the child and supports all of his needs. There is the Critical Parent who judges, attacks, criticises and might as a result make the child feel worthless. There is the Rebellious Child who simply wants things his own way and doesn’t listen to reason. There is lastly the Adapted Part that wants to please the parent, and whose behaviour shifts according to what is expected of him.

Using a painfully recent disagreement as an example to illustrate where I fit into all this, it is quite clear that my behaviour is that of the rebellious child (with a smattering of critical parent). In the example, I didn’t get things my way, so rather than deal with it calmly and adhere to an alternative plan, I became irate, irrational, throwing blame around like it was going out of fashion, calling the other person stupid, and finally refusing to go through with any sort of plan when the other person begged me to. It took me hours to regain anything resembling composure and even then my seeming amicability didn’t last, and there have been more upsets since then.

What the rebellious child wants is to get his way, to be listened to, and for unconditional love. What the child wants is for the other to be untrue to himself. The rebellious child demands total submission. It’s disgusting and terrifying and I don’t really know how I got to be like this. It’s terrifying. I still have this awful concern that I am not going to change and all these little love affairs with spirituality or therapy or whatever’s flavour of the month will be over as quickly as they began, cast aside like a used whore.

The subject of my reliance on thinking/writing also came up. G came to the conclusion I use my strongly developed mind instead of my feelings. I justify and rationalise all kinds of things, that then have an effect on my behaviour. And once poisoned thought becomes feeling then action, all hell breaks loose. G asked me to consider how I feel once I’ve written 900 words that perfectly sum up my mood. I said I felt satisfied, like after eating a big dinner. I’ve put something into a tidy little box, with a title and tags and correct diction and punctuation. It’s all so neat and snug. I can draw a line under it once I hit Save or Publish. But does all this thinking actually perpetuate the problems of an overactive mind?

Trust in love.

I try not to write about future plans because it sounds smug and I’d feel silly if I didn’t follow through with something I said I would in public. However, there is something I have planned that will hopefully step the journey up the next level in embracing body, mind and spirit. In an effort to a) tone up my weak frame and b) shake off this bad mood that has been hovering over me like a personal rain cloud, I have enrolled for five weekly zumba classes beginning this week.

I would like to be active as this is something that’s truly missing from my life at the minute. I’m not the sort of person that makes time for exercise – even just yoga or a few breathing exercies – in the context of their day to day life. I need instruction, and a time and place to do the activity, with other people, and having parted with cash for the privelege. The best way for me to start the arduous uphill struggle of physical activity is by doing my research, scheduling what I’ve found into my diary, psyching myself up in preparation, then hopefully following through and finding it to be actually not that bad.

The past couple of weeks I have been suffering from low energy levels and a generally depressed mood. I have let this mood seep out of every pore, emitting its foulness like putrefying meat, poisoning everyone around me. I feel so sorry for the damage that I’ve done, and rotten that I’ve been forgiven and met with love when I don’t deserve to be.

I’m not just beating myself up about it. I genuinely have behaved atrociously for a week and I am aware of doing it. I have read all the books about loving yourself, accepting yourself, developing self-esteem and enjoying the beauty of life here and now. They don’t help when your mind wants to be bad and blow up over nothing. This is going to take years of psychotherapy to keep at bay for good. The problems I have won’t disappear overnight no matter how hard I will myself to feel differently, think differently, behave differently. The books say that you can – that’s it’s all a matter of choosing which thoughts to have, and to work with the positive ones only and discard the negative. But the power of neurosis in the mind is deep and unrelenting. “If you let it!” You may say. Without the tools and the ability to use them, changing oneself is beyond impossible. It simply takes more than you’ve got.

So I see once again that I haven’t got it made, not one little bit. It remains a persistent struggle with so many reminders that, no, we’re not nearly there yet.

The time will soon come for me to leave the cold, grey, perpetually depressing country where I currently live, for a few months in the sun with my own projects to do with J. I promise always to try to be better, to remember that love is all, to be gentle and kind always, and to recognise the symptoms of my bad behaviour before it erupts. It’s too late if I’ve already flown into a rage or have made hurtful comments. It’s too late if I’ve given cause for doubt in someone else’s mind. It’s too late if I am loathing myself for the messed up way I am thinking. It’s too late if my neurotic thoughts have got such a hold over me that I’ve already justified to myself that it’s acceptable to kick off right now. I have to get better at knowing myself. I have to trust that I can “grow”, not change, as J reminded me when I was in tears terrified that I can’t or won’t change. Trust in love.

Kundalini. The curl of the lock of hair.

I’ve started a new class in Kundalini yoga which is known as the ‘yoga of awareness’, utilising life force energy located at the bottom of the spine and combining breath and a lot of movement. Kundalini is a relatively new branch of yoga, based on the writings of spiritual teacher Sivananda Saraswati who founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the Ganges in 1936. Influences come from tantra and shakta schools of Hinduism. It was popularised in the 1960s by  Harbhajan Singh, also known as Yogi Bhajan. Kundalini yoga is said to strengthen and balance the body, give clarity to the mind, release tension, make contact with your infinity and innate inner wisdom, and help you to feel peaceful and fully charged.

According to Saraswati’s treatise, it aims “to cultivate the creative spiritual potential of a human to uphold values, speak truth, and focus on the compassion and consciousness needed to serve and heal others.” This sounds absolutely beautiful. The name ‘kundalini’ has a poetic metaphor behind it, meaning “the curl of the lock of hair”, a reference to the energy and consciousness that flows within us.

The long class uses a blend of postures, pranayam, music, mantra and meditation, which teach the art of relaxation, self-healing and elevation. You get very deep into the soul of yoga. One of the exercises was to move from baby position to caterpillar on your belly with spine curled upwards, then back into baby and up into a downward dog, which is like a triangle shape with your bottom in the air and head down, feet flat on the mat. It’s going to take some practice. This and all the exercises were done with breath being the momentum that carries you onward, and so the movement of the body. and the inhale/ exhale is totally synchronised.

It felt very good performing the breath of fire. This isn’t when you’ve had too much vindaloo but a step away from Western breathing using just the chest area. The breath of fire is awareness of your breathing using the diaphragm to its full extent. Taking intense rapid breaths through the nostrils you fill your abdomen with new air and quickly expel the old. We must have looked like a class of hyperventilators. The technique is said to be good for clearing deposits from the nasal cavities and extending lung capacity, both of which are great for me as these are two problem areas.

Another exercise that I found surprisingly strenuous was lying flat on your back with hands placed under your bottom so the lower back is flat against the mat, then lifting straight legs to a 60 degree angle and opening and crossing them closed, with alternate legs being on top. You do this exercise at a fast pace in a sudden 3-minute burst of energy, which is very taxing when your body hasn’t the discipline for any sustained physical activity whatsoever.

All the physical exercises were tough for me. My body felt tired afterwards and a little achy rather than rejuvenated. All the more reason to stick at it, so that perhaps in a few sessions’ time I can actually feel the benefit. The day after (today) I have no aches but have become more aware of the awkward ways I hold my body, in particular my tense right shoulder.

Aside from the physical exertions, there is also a more meditative aspect to the class I attended. There are spiritual affirmations that are repeated – either chanted in a way that exercises the voice and you really feel your voice; or sung in a way that clears out old air from your lungs. You do feel a bit silly doing the Hindu chanting, but it’s easy to suspend that feeling and just give in to it, like when you dance and after loosening up a little your inhibitions go.

Kundalini yoga uses the energy locks system and focusses on the locks around the lower back. All that energy is contained within the spine – Kundalini wakes it up and shakes it out of its office-life imposed sloth. Sometimes a pose or an exercise will involve connecting the tips of your thumbs together or connecting your thumb and index finger as if circling an imaginary egg, which seemed arbitrary before but I’m beginning to see how this all makes a big picture.

I’m not a natural yogi, I even found sitting cross-legged with a straight back too much at times, but I saw the goodness that is at the core of this teaching and I will endeavour to continue whenever I am free on class night. I feel really lucky to have discovered this amazing way of tapping into inner resources and seeking all that I wish inside my very soul.

Be a light unto yourself. Reflections & cultivation.

“Initiate giving. Don’t wait for someone to ask. See what happens – especially to you. You may find that you gain greater clarity about yourself and about your relationships, as well as more energy rather than less. You may find that, rather than exhausting yourself or your resources, you will replenish them. Such is the power of mindful, selfless generosity. At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient… only the universe rearranging itself.”
– Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

There are so many simply beautiful sentiments in this book, they almost bring tears to my eyes. The above passage makes me weep with the joy of being alive. You start with giving gifts and blessings to yourself such as self-acceptance. You practice accepting these gifts feeling deserving and without obligation. Give away energy. Direct it towards others and yourself with no thought of gain. Kingly giving is to give as if you had inexhaustible wealth. Share your abundance of all kinds – your best self, your vitality, your spirit, your openness and your presence. Share it with yourself, your family and the world.

We have rough edges of self-cherishing, which lead us to feel that giving won’t lead to adequate reward, won’t be appreciated or will leave us depleted. This is fear-based self-protection. It causes us distance, isolation and diminishment. In practising mindful giving, we discover expanded versions of ourselves.

It is not even necessary to give anything away. Generosity is an inward state. It is a willingness to share with and trust in the world and ourselves. Isn’t that beautiful?

Apart from generosity, Kabat-Zinn also talks about trust. If we trust ourselves or another, we find a powerful stabilising element encompassing security, balance and openness. If we don’t trust in our abilities to be mindful, we will not persevere in cultivating the qualities of observation, attending, knowing, reflecting, sensing… and they will wither away.

And I love the chapter on letting go. While ‘high in the running for the New Age cliché of the century’, real letting go is an invitation to cease clinging to any ideas, things, events, perspectives and desires. Release with full acceptance the stream of the present moments as they unfold, without getting caught up in our attraction to or rejection of them. Kabat-Zinn calls it ‘the intrinsic stickiness of wanting’. Letting go means choosing to become transparent to the strong pull of our own likes and dislikes.

Patience is another of the qualities that lead to mindfulness. ‘Patience is an ever-present alternative to the mind’s endemic restlessness. Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtle or not so subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it.’

Personally I think that humility is the most essential virtue needed for mindfulness practice, as lots of the other qualities stem from that. It’s the one I have trouble with myself as for someone with low self-worth, I certainly have an inflated sense of the importance of my own feelings! There is a chapter in the book called You Have to Be Strong Enough to Be Weak. In in, Kabat-Zinn talks about people that give the impression of being invulnerable to feeling hurt. I’m afraid I am (or should I say was?) one of these people. For years I had a complex that I can’t let anyone see my weak emotions. I felt I couldn’t ever tell someone they’d hurt me, whether a kid in the playground, or a partner or friend. I felt I had to be impervious to all. This was probably in part because of my upbringing. My parents (the only family I had) didn’t talk about feelings and that was that. I’m not placing blame, just locating something specific and true.

Kabat-Zinn makes a clever leap between those who hide behind the powerful shield of their image; and those who believe they are wise meditators, who mistakenly believe they have everything under control and are invincible as a result of their meditative experiences. To be truly strong, there is no need to advertise it to others or yourself. That was quite an unexpected but obvious message of practicing mindfulness and meditation – that shouting it from the rooftops would defeat the point of it. So I will just cultivate it quietly, carefully, slow growing from within.

Do the basics. The rest will follow. Meeting with F.

There is a bit of me, the bit that’s not on the journey, that wonders whether I am making any progress at all. The principles of NLP are all very admirable but I’m starting to think that you need to be a saint to live your life by them. Trying to follow such high ideals inevitably sets you up for failure when you have setbacks. Although NLP says ‘there is no failure, only feedback’, it is hard to feel like I’m on track for mental wellbeing, spiritual growth, behavioural amenity, examplary rapport skills and mastery over my mind. I guess that is part of the challenge.

The weekend held yet more conflict and turmoil and has left me feeling confused and alone. I did battle with the voices in my head that tell me to pick, poke, nag – and lost. I need so much validation when I spend a long time upsetting the balance, then I wonder why. The reason why I feel like all this might be in vain is because I know what I’m meant to be thinking and saying, I’m meant to be focussing on what I’m trying to achieve, which is rapport, behavioural flexibility and sensory awareness. I’m meant to be nurturing my mind with great thoughts! Instead I’m allowing myself to feel distressed when conflict arises and to demand resolution, which is counter-productive and was inappropriate given the circumstances.

I had an insight during my first session with a brand new therapist today. It’s a thought I’ve had before but worth reiterating. Why have my relationships comprised high levels of conflict? Surely there must be something in common with my relationships.The answer is of course, me! Conflict arises because of my sabotaging a happy status quo. My pattern is to believe that I am not worthy of the relationship I find myself in. I have low self-esteem and a shaky sense of self-worth. I think that my partner deserves better – someone more attractive, happier, more intelligent, more interesting or whatever – and to show him that I am not as great as he delusionally thinks I am, I show him my worst possible traits. I dare my partner to see me at my absolute worst. I push the boundaries of a relationship again and again until they break. Either that or I am afraid to show that I care, afraid of coming across weak and needy.

Why do I say really mean things to my partner? That’s what I’d like to find out. My new therapist, F, would like to understand what’s going on in my mind when I have the compulsion to be vicious. I know I am doing it, so why do I carry on effectuating thought into word/action? This has established itself as a pattern in my programming and it needs to be unwritten. Though F’s approach isn’t to delve deep into the past (which suits me as I don’t need to be psychoanalysed), the roots of my behaviour probably stretch back to early childhood.

The new therapist F’s approach veers away from the prescriptive medical model and he was keen to point out that there are no guarantees, and he isn’t a miracle worker after all. That was a good disclaimer to put in, as I turned up there guns blazing with my list of desired outcomes and my first blog post printed out, both of which I read to him. He said that was very good, clear and brave. I also am of the mind that if you are in a position to be clear about what you need, then you will probably get a better result.

I feel very positive about my meeting with F and hope that our rapport builds over time, as this is a key factor in determining which therapist ‘feels’ right. What drew me to him specifically is that he’s a member of at least five counselling and psychotherapy organisations, is a Master Practitioner in NLP, experienced hypnotherapist, and also an expert in conflict resolution and mediation. So that gives me great hope and reassurance – others may not feel that it’s so important to do a lot of reading up on the person you’re potentially baring your soul to – but I do!

During the initial sessions I think there’s nothing wrong with asking the practitioner for their immediate reaction to your issues. Ask specific questions about their approach, and don’t be afraid to ask whether they think they can help, or not. Their reaction to these on the spot questions can be quite telling! I guess it’s always a challenge for them to meet with a potential new client and to be looked upon to provide solutions, so view the experience as a two-way exchange.

Ultimately for me, whether my mindset and behaviour actually change is a matter yet to be seen. With all the best will in the world from both the practitioner and myself, nothing will change unless I am ready and willing to accept it.

Therapy outcomes. Where mindfulness fits in.

I think it’s worth putting down the outcomes that I had decided for myself about a month ago. They still stand. They are:

  • To learn how to be happy
  • To be able to manage and control negative emotions
  • To be able to deal with criticism and rejection
  • To learn how to walk away from conflict
  • To understand what the causes/ triggers of my bad behaviour are
  • To be stronger mentally
  • To gain an insight into, and appreciation of, the meaning of human existence
  • To learn to be less selfish
  • To regard myself as a valid member of my relationship, my workplace, community, society
  • To understand myself and my subconscious motivations, desires, neuroses
  • To be able to live in the moment
  • To come to terms with, and stop hating, myself

I realise I still have a long way to go and the more I think about it, the more I realise that my therapy journey will be one that lasts a lifetime. Initially, when I started this process, I guess I was looking for a quick fix.

Things actually came to a head one day while I was going through a rough patch in my relationship. My partner had had enough of my bad, bad, behaviour. At the time, he didn’t want anything more to do with me but suggested undergoing therapy for my own benefit, with no other agenda. He said of the situation “it must stop” and identified with typical insight and clarity that I had underlying problems that need to be identified and worked on. And I really do.

When my structures of dependence are taken away from me I find it very hard to cope and so I lash out. I am paralysed by inertia and blaming everything on the person that took me away from my state of blissful ignorance.

I was never happy, I don’t think ever in my life. I had little pockets of pleasure but no idea how to be myself. Without this sense of happiness in my core I did nothing but blame my partner, or anyone else I could, for all my own shortcomings.

The best technique I have learned about recently is that of mindfulness and I think can help me a lot. In a nutshell, the approach focuses one’s attention on the here and now. So, without judgment, consciously and deliberately being aware of the sensations that your body and senses are experiencing in the present moment.

I sometimes get so caught up in thinking about the past and what has brought me to where I am now – and the future, all the things I would like to be, that I forget that life is here and life is now. I am planning on attending a mindfulness course run by my local council but it’s not until April. Until then I am trying to be in the moment as much as I can.

Reaching out to the world. Getting to know you.

Hi readers

This is me reaching out to the world as I begin my journey into counselling, body and soul healing, and alternative therapies. This blog is intended to be a record of my progress and my thoughts and feelings along the long, hard road.

The problems I need to address are many and varied but in a nutshell:

I am a very angry and aggressive person. I guess it would be true to say that over time, I have developed strategies for dealing with and managing this in front of other people. But often I find myself seething inside, with terrible bad feelings often mixed with neurosis and circular thought patterns.

I am a very negative and critical person, often quick to put others in their place undeservedly, or to cast a gloomy mood over a happy situation. I am guilty of seeing the worst in a bad situation or of “predicting” that everything I do is going to be a failure – which is a self-fulfilling prophecy of course.

There are other issues too which I will explore in more detail in future posts.

I’ve written a sort of manifesto which I’ve included below.

anger

The path that has led me to the point I’m at now – the point of self-analysis, admitting where my flaws lie, and resolving to do something about it – is largely due to troubles I’ve had in my relationship. My partner (“J”) some months ago identified some disturbing traits that are inherent in my behaviour but it has taken this long for the situation to be the right one. He suggested CBT as a possible route, having taken a course of treatment himself in the past.

I could have lost my relationship because of my problems. I’m not saying all our difficulties were my fault, but I certainly didn’t treat J with the real love and respect that he deserves. And a lot of the time he was reacting to my “abusive, aggressive, rude, selfish, spoilt” behaviour. And I totally agree with that.

I am trying my utmost to feel like a normal person again, who’s strong and doesn’t lose sight of what is important in life.

I need to trust myself again and understand why I blow up the way I do so that I can prevent it from happening again, and again, and again and ruining my life and the lives of those close to me. I don’t suppose that bringing me up was a bed of roses so I hope that one day I can have a mature relationship with my parents too, if only to be able to reciprocate the love they have for me.

Getting rid of my demons is a huge challenge and a change that will be ongoing for the rest of my life probably.