The paradox of change

Sarah writes:

In my work as a therapist and in my everyday life, I’m surrounded by people who want to change.   They are unhappy about some part of themselves in the present, and have a desire to eradicate it and embrace a new better evolved version of themselves.

Feelings of shame and disgust are usually attached to the unwanted self, and this almost always makes me sad.   People seldom have compassion for the parts of themselves they don’t like or don’t want.  I rarely see people try to understand or make sense of these bits, it’s much more usual for people to judge these parts of themselves in a nasty unhelpful way; being angry and impatient with themselves.

‘I hate that I…….. have no confidence…..can’t stop smoking …………….stress about exams…………am so fat……………’

Ironically this process and these thoughts delays change.

If I want to change something about myself, I must first understand why I do it in the first place.

I can’t fix the fact that I have no confidence without understanding why.  I can’t stop smoking/ taking drugs / eating too much without truly understanding why I do it in the first place.

These are broken and wounded parts of ourselves; and to heal they need compassion and understanding, not criticism.  

Beisser’s (1970) paradoxical theory of change states ‘that change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not’. Movement cannot happen without a sure foothold, and before we can move towards what we might like to become, we must fully acknowledge what we are.

If you were to try that, right now, how would that be?   To be more understanding of the broken and wounded parts of yourself and less critical.   How does that feel?

Accepting ourselves messy and whole; experiencing our feelings fully is an important part of movement in the process of change.

Carl Rodgers says:

‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change’

Photo Sarah Loeb

Who does us good?

We all have limited amounts of energy and when we’re facing challenges in our circumstances or wellbeing we may find a lot of our energy gets taken up with just getting through the day. So, when we think of those people we spend time with regularly, it can be helpful to be aware of who gives us energy and who drains us. It may be that some friends or relatives have a beneficial impact on us ; we leave their company recharged and with energy and drive to face difficulties. Others meanwhile may sap our energy leaving us feeling worse.

Through increasing our self-awareness we may notice who drains us and who gives us energy by their presence or how they are with us. The next step is considering whether we want to change who we see and how often we see them.

Spending more time with those who do us good can give us the support we need to grow. Putting boundaries in place that limit the time we spend with those who drain us can be difficult, but important if we are to prioritise our wellbeing. If we don’t pay attention and act on our awareness of who boosts our energy and who diminishes it, we can make it harder for ourselves to progress and to thrive.

For us to flourish we may need to consider who does us good, who doesn’t and act on our insights.

Photo: Nathan Anderson unsplash.com

Real not perfect

Sarah writes:

Among people I know and work with, one of the biggest causes of unhappiness that I see is the pursuit of perfection.

People are mean to themselves when they don’t hit ‘perfect’, or if they hit ‘perfect’ and then find that they can’t keep it up. 

When this happens people are being mean to themselves for being human and real.

It’s not surprising that we often think of perfection as normal and hate ourselves when we miss.  We are surrounded by images that portray perfection as a normal everyday occurrence. 

The media and social media often depict images of beautiful people getting it right; and living lives where perfection is portrayed as easily attainable.  Whether it’s maintaining a difficult exercise regime, constantly eating a healthy diet (whipping something ‘easy’ up in 10 mins which would take me at least 40!); looking amazing, looking happy; achieving lots; balancing commitments; being a brainbox; being successful in love; being successful in your work and career, being a fabulous parent, the media is full of stories of people who can do it all, and do it all easily.

I’m far from perfect.  When I worked in an office my messy desk was legendary. I have to work hard to be organised and sometimes I miss.  Sometimes I’m too tired to cook healthy and I struggle to lose weight.   There were times as a new mum that I didn’t get out till 4pm and my clothes had sick on them.  Although I try my hardest now, I’m —definitely— still not a perfect parent.

I don’t believe it’s possible for any human being to be perfect.   At times in our lives, if we are lucky, we might do some things really well or get things ‘spot-on’ but it’s irrational to think that these standards can always be maintained.

Counselling is something that can help this process, counselling doesn’t turn us into perfect people.  It can help us learn to like and accept ourselves as we really are; and this can free us up to be happy; and, ironically, to achieve more.  Things become much easier to do when we aren’t worried about them being perfect.  

So how can we be happier?  Well, for a start it might help if we had expectations of ourselves that were realistic.   If we could believe the real version of ourselves was lovable and acceptable.

And in embracing the new imperfect you, try not to worry about being unacceptable or unlikeable.  In my experience imperfect people are very easy to like.  I’m always much more comfortable with imperfect real people, it feels more honest… and… I feel more at home…………

Honouring our bodies

This week 13-19 May 2019 is Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.K. and this year the theme is body image. How do you feel about your body? How do you care for your body and give yourself what your body needs? How do you respect your body and honour your uniqueness?

We all live embodied lives, yet so many of us struggle to honour and fully respect our bodies. We are surrounded by images in social media of unattainable physiques, sending us the message that we are not good enough, not thin enough, not beautiful enough, not young enough…these images create dissatisfaction, sadness and self-loathing.  

The message of this weeks campaign is to behold our own beauty, empower ourselves and recognise our own innate value and dignity. We are human beings with human bodies that speak of the reality of living in this time and place. We are invited to do something today that does our body and the whole of us good. To celebrate being alive and the bodies we have.

unsplash.com

For an inspirational spoken poem on body image please go to

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/body-image-poem

Beat: If you want to speak to a trained eating disorder helpline support worker then you can call Beat‘s helpline on 0808 801 0711 (UK) they are open 365 days of the year 12pm – 6pm Mon – Fri and 4pm – 8pm weekends and bank holidays.

Making a difference

How do you use your creativity? We all do have creative abilities, however we can be filled with self-doubt when thinking about being creative We can lack confidence in ourselves. If this is our experience, rather than not acting, taking small actions that we know we can manage, can help us move towards more adventurous projects. Have you found ways of expressing your creativity?

There are a myriad forms for this from preparing food, arranging flowers, doing DIY, playing an instrument, gardening, crafts….the list is endless. Time spent on creativity can take our minds away from anxious thoughts, it gives us a different focus. The process can be helpful in itself and on top we may have the satisfaction of having created something we like.

There is therapeutic value in creativity. The very act of choosing to do something positive is beneficial no matter how it turns out. If it is hard to start, it can help to remember something creative we did before that went well. If the outcome is not what we are hoping for, it is important to be aware that there will have been value in the process itself….. when gardening, not all plants will do well but the very act of planting seeds is beneficial in lots of ways.  

Rather than something that will take a lot of preparation and buying extra items it can be helpful to start with something that can be created from what we already have. But the key is choosing something that fits for us. So I invite you to give your creativity some space this week in whatever way suits you.

The value of mistakes

Sarah writes…

When he was five, my son bounded out of school into my arms and announced ‘I made a brilliant mistake today mummy’.

He was proud of his mistake, because he understood mistakes as helping us to learn, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Imagine if you put such a spin on the mistakes that you make.  My lived experience is that not many of us do.

Many of the people I work with and know personally feel shame and/or horror when they make mistakes, judging themselves harshly, showing little self-compassion or understanding.  They imagine that the mistake will make them less likeable or fear abandonment.

I know that mistakes don’t make me like people any less; just like big achievements don’t make me like people any more.   I like people because of who they are, not what they achieve.

Mistakes are part of our learning process, one of my favourite quotes comes from Samuel Smiles, who says:

“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”

Imagine the difference to our lives if we saw mistakes, not as failures but as part of our learning process paving the way to success!

A warm welcome to our Wellbeing blog

The 5 Ways of Wellbeing

Have you noticed that through counselling, often self-care increases? It becomes more of a priority and motivation is found to do it.

So what might self-care of our mental health look like? Caring for our mental health can involve many different aspects. Getting enough sleep and enough nutritious food are foundational and really benefit us.

The organisation MIND highlights Five Ways to Wellbeing, originally developed by the New Economics Foundation. They are:

Connect

Be Active

Take notice

Learn

Give

Photo by Daniel Frank unsplash.com

We may connect with others or with other living beings, with our natural environment. There are many ways to be active but perhaps the simplest is just to walk in our local park or to take the stairs when we could choose the lift. What gives you a lift when you take notice of it? A piece of art? A beautiful sky? A bird? Learning may be learning a new word or a new skill, something large or small, something that stimulates our curiosity.  To give may mean paid or voluntary work for someone but for another person it may be holding the door open for someone who is pushing a pram or feeding the local birds.

To read more about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing go to

https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-yourself/five-ways-to-wellbeing/