After working as a student counsellor, supervisor and Head of a University Counselling Service for many years, I decided to stop counselling and pursue my love of writing. I now write poetry, stories and counselling related articles. My first book, Finding Love in the Looking Glass: A Book of Counselling Case Stories, Karnac published in 2014 and it is now published by Routledge. I wanted to show people how valuable short term counselling can be and how we can change our lives when we decide to build a positive relationship with ourselves. I decided that blogging would be an enjoyable challenge and a way of sharing ideas and experiences in shorter pieces. This blog will appeal to counsellors, counsellors in training, anyone curious about personal development.
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…I came upon an article about an American presidential candidate who stepped down from his presidential campaign in 1936 to support a programme of social security. This included a minimum wage, the abolition of capital punishment and advocating a decrease in working hours for women and children. His name was John Gilbert Winant, who served three terms as Governor of New Hampshire. These two quotes are from an article by James O. Freedman in the Harvard Magazine.
‘In February 1941, Roosevelt appointed him ambassador to Great Britain. During the Battle of Britain, Winant walked the streets of London, ablaze from the aerial bombardments, offering assistance to the injured amid the rubble of their homes and stores. His shy sincerity and quiet fearlessness endeared him to the British people and helped buoy that beleaguered nation.’
‘To read his speeches is to sense the same greatness of soul, magnanimity of purpose, and simplicity of language that appear in Lincoln’s addresses. In June 1942, he told striking coal miners in Durham, England, ‘This is the people’s democracy. We must keep it wide and vigorous, alive to need, of whatever kind, and ready to meet it, whether it be danger from without or well-being from within, always remembering that it is the things of the spirit that in the end prevail that…daring to live dangerously we are learning to live generously….’ His speech was a resounding success: by joining the life-or-death struggle to preserve democracy with the concrete social purpose of improving the economic circumstances of working people, Winant had deepened the war’s meaning for the common man. The miners went back to their crucial work.’
His own 1946 quote was: ‘Doing the day’s work day by day, doing a little, adding a little, broadening our bases wanting not only for ourselves but for others also, a fairer chance for all people everywhere. Forever moving forward, always remembering that it is the things of the spirit that in the end prevail. That caring counts and that where there is no vision the people perish. That hope and faith count and that without charity, there can be nothing good. That having dared to live dangerously, and in believing in the inherent goodness of man, we can stride forward into the unknown with growing confidence.
I was so impressed by his humanitarian principles which transcended party lines and his own ego. If only there were more leaders around today of this calibre!!
This is a four week group, two hours per session, designed to help refugees, from 16 to 25, to grow in awareness, esteem and assertiveness; To support them to deal with feelings of loss and to enable them to honour those people, places and customs that they have left behind. To identify the building blocks that support all of us to take our space in the world. This group was made up entirely of young men and was conducted using translators.
ALL HANDOUTS ARE AVAILABLE FOR COPY/TRANSLATION HERE
BEGINNING WITH NAMES: Each person created a name label and talked about what their name meant to them and where they had come from.
THEIR JOURNEY: Everyone was invited to talk about their journey to the UK. Participants were mostly from Eritrea and a few from Afghanistan. Some of these young men walked hundreds of miles through desert, without provisions. Others travelled by trucks, train, sea, and car. Most of them had spent time in refugee camps. Each person was given a notebook to write about their journey, primarily for themselves, to honour the strength and power of their journey.
THE BRIDGE OF WISDOM: This is illustrated by the Bridge of Wisdom, one of the handout posts, a Round Arch Bridge, exhibited in the children’s section of the Science Museum in London, made up of individual building blocks. These blocks are scattered on the ground, but once put together on a wooden framework along with the final keystone, the framework is taken away leaving a bridge so strong that children and adults can run over it.
The object of this course is to identify the building blocks that enable them to build a bridge into their new life. We considered qualities that strengthen us inside and outside: self-esteem; assertiveness; dealing with feelings positively, honouring who we are and honouring what we have left behind.
SUPPORT FROM THE INSIDE – SELF ESTEEM: They can use the experiences of their journey here to recognise their power and strength and improve their confidence and self-esteem. They had all achieved something amazing in their lives already.
We can increase this confidence by visualising ourselves doing something well. Many sports professionals use detailed visualisations of themselves doing something well to build self-belief and improve performance – like scoring a penalty goal! All of these young lads were keen on football so it was a useful example to use. We linked this to visualising job interviews; joining a new class; making new friends…
ENDED SESSION WITH A PICTURE OF PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: Everyone drew a picture of where they felt they had been; where they felt they were now and where they wanted to be in the future which created a lively discussion.
MORE ON SELF ESTEEM: We began by talking about the power and strength of actively becoming our own best friend, noticing how we can improve the way we talk to ourselves. How we can ‘raise our game’ if we begin to believe ‘we can do it’. Each person named two of their strengths and identified two of their skills.
WHERE DO I WANT TO BE? Each person was asked: ‘What do I want to be doing in 2 years’ and ‘What do I see myself doing in 7 years’. Each person had a clear and positive idea of what they wanted to be doing.
SUPPORT FROM THE OUTSIDE – ASSERTIVENESS: How we approach other people is an important building block. Having a position of ‘I’m okay’ and ‘You’re okay’ is a place of positive assertiveness. The group walked around the room, role playing being aggressive in posture and body language; being passive in posture and body language and then something between the two, being assertive in posture and body language. The group then role played how they would sit in their chairs in each of these positions. Everyone could see which one of these would work best if they were being interviewed for a job!
MISTAKES ARE VALUABLE: We learn from the mistakes we make, like a toddler learning to walk, falling down and learning competence. I gave out the hand-out by Maya Angelou.
POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS: The group were asked to choose some positive affirmations sheets that were passed around. Each person took at least one of them home.
ENDED SESSION WITH A FIVE MINUTE MEDITATION ON THEIR FAVOURITE AFFIRMATION. Meditation was new to most of the group. I explained meditation with a real lemonade bottle which I shook up and then watched it settle down again and asked them to relax. Even so, two people had difficulty with silence. One member of the group was fearful of silence in case they experienced flash backs and another person got the giggles, maybe an initial resistance. So, 5 minutes was enough to begin with.
SESSION 3: HANDLING FEELINGS POSITIVELY: I talked about different intelligences: mental, physical, musical, creative, people skills and emotional intelligence.I placed a list on the board of the main feelings and we discussed ways of dealing with them. Before we began, I asked them to tell me a bit about the politics in their countries and how they and others had been treated and this led very easily on to the first feeling of anger.
ANGER – NEEDS EXPRESSION WITHOUT HARMING YOURSELF OR OTHER PEOPLE; Letters/Assertiveness/Letting off Steam by telling someone/Exercise/Other Physical activity/drawing or painting your anger. I told them the story of one elderly lady I had heard of (not a client) who had bought up old cups and saucers in a charity shop and had then placed them on a shelf in her shed and when she was really angry, she would throw a cricket ball at them until they were in tiny bits! They liked this!
SADNESS – NEEDS COMFORT; Talk to a friend/cup of tea or coffee/favourite food/ask for a hug from someone/watch a favourite movie/listen to relaxing music. Skype or phone home.
FEAR/ANXIETY – NEEDS MORE INFORMATION AND PROTECTION; Consider how you can keep yourself safe/get more information /who and what will support you/create space or distract yourself from the source of fear/breathing exercises or meditation. Feel the fear, acknowledge your vulnerability and do it anyway.
SHAME AND GUILT – NEEDS TO BE TIME LIMITED; Talk to someone and decide to carry it for a short and determined period of time only and then let it go – for good. We all walked around the room carrying our chairs on our back and likened this to guilt and shame, too heavy to play football, too heavy to mend a car, too heavy to care for a partner and have fun with friends…needs to be released and PUT DOWN.
ENVY AND JEALOUSY – SOMETIMES USEFUL, BUT CAN BE DESTRUCTIVE; Some envy may be useful and can tell us what we want and need in our lives. Jealousy may tell us the strength of our feelings but can be destructive – do something good for ourselves instead.
JOY; It is fun to share with others as well as feeling it ourselves. Play and laugh a lot!
FORGIVENESS; When you are ready, forgiveness can lead you to compassion. This was a great power in Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison. It is what made him such a fantastic leader.
LOSS AND BEREAVEMENT; The last week is devoted to this and honouring what and who has been left behind. One person talked about a custom that they missed from home. Most people spoke of the love for family members and friends that they missed.
We discussed each feeling as a group and everyone identified one feeling that was most difficult for them to experience and deal with.
SESSION ENDED WITH A SHORT MEDITATION ON THE ONE FEELING FOR EACH PERSON THAT WAS MOST DIFFICULT AND IMAGINING IT BEING ACCEPTED OR COMFORTED BY A GOLDEN BALL OF LIGHT THAT THEY BREATHED IN DURING THE MEDITATION. We talked again about the value of being still, quiet and using breathing to relax.
SESSION 4: LOSS AND BEREAVEMENT: It is important to give time and respect to the process of grief; the acceptance of the pain of it, within ourselves and within others. There are some things that we can do to make this process easier:
Talk to friends, family and others;
Create a special place to honour what you have lost: person, place, job, country… Place a photograph or something there to remind you of what or who you miss. Designate a specific time to maybe light a candle and honour or reflect on whatever and whoever you need to honour and your feelings of connection to it or them.
If there is something left unsaid with someone who has died, we can write a letter to them to express the unspoken. In the writing of it, you are expressing something important for you.
You could write down your feelings of loss about what or who you have lost. Expressing your feelings is a way of honouring the place or person, whatever it may be. It is valuable to express feelings in poetry, pictures, music, in any way that is useful for you.
You can celebrate the gifts you have received from a person who has been very special in your life. Wrap an empty box, large or small, in gift paper and keep this in a special place for as long as you need to as an act of respect and gratitude.
You could walk in a local labyrinth, celebrating, valuing and meditating on what or who you have lost. I have known people imagine walking the labyrinth with their loved ones and it has been very soothing. You could get support to do this, you don’t have to do it on your own. Look at the blog page on Walking in a Labyrinth. There is a list on the Veriditas Website showing where your nearest labyrinth might be. We are lucky in Canterbury to have three excellent labyrinths. One, behind Eliot College at the University of Kent,the Canterbury Labyrinth; the second in the beautiful garden of the Pilgrims Hospice in the London Road and the third in the Canterbury Christchurch University Campus Garden.
Allow yourself to remember.
Counselling can help.
Each person in the group identified a person they missed, everyone mentioned their mother and some mentioned their father and other family members. One of their mothers had died. Many people took one of the small gift wrapped boxes and a tealight candle. Everyone had a chance to talk about a person they were grieving for. The pain of grief connects all human beings together since it is something that most of us experience. We are all in this ocean of life together experiencing such a variety of feelings. We joined hands in the group for a few moments to honour the people or places that we most cherished and wanted to honour.
This was the last session of the group and I gave a feedback form to each person to be filled in later with one of the administrators. They were asked if they would recommend this group to others; what they found valuable or not and what they wanted more of in future. The feedback was positive. One person wrote that they had discovered, ‘power, strength, compassion, grammar, homely, and I’m own best friend myself‘ .
I concluded that the main support was the coming together, the discussion and the awareness of their many strengths that was really important, especially that they can be supported from inside themselves as well as from outside.
I’ve put details of this here hoping other counsellors may run similar groups. Counselling was not something any of these lads had experienced. They were very bright capable young men who had made this extraordinary journey with such courage and power. They so much want to learn, be a valuable part of the world and most of all want to be ‘free’. Because of the difficulties in their varying skills in English, it was useful to use visualisations, images and practical examples especially using examples from football. Made me realise how international football is for young people!
A Round Arch Bridge at the London Science Museum. Visitors can build an arch bridge out of individual angled blocks that vividly illustrate the stability of such structures. Once the keystone is placed in, you can take away the wooden framework and the bridge is very strong.
The inspiration of what each block contains is inspired by the life of Nelson Mandela during and after his experience of prison. He used the time to enrich himself which led to him becoming one of the greatest and most compassionate leaders of our time.
These are statements which can be cut up and placed on a table so that participants can select the most appropriate one for them to focus on during a meditation. I found group members also wanted to take several of them home to use as affirmations.
I RESOLVE TO TREAT MYSELF AS MY BEST FRIEND
I LISTEN TO MYSELF AND TALK KINDLY TO MYSELF
I AM LIVING MORE AND MORE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
EACH DAY IS AN OPPORTUNITY
ALL YOU HAVE TO DO TO CHANGE YOUR WORLD IS TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK
I ALLOW MY MIND TO RELAX AND BE QUIET
I KNOW MY OWN STRENGTHS AND SKILLS
I CAN HANDLE ANYTHING THAT COMES MY WAY
MISTAKES ARE HOW WE MOVE FORWARD IN OUR LIVES
I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN LIFE
I AM TAKING CHARGE OF MY LIFE
I AM MAKING EACH DAY COUNT
I TRUST AND BELIEVE IN MYSELF
I TRUST AND BELIEVE IN MYSELF AND IN THE PROCESS OF LIFE
FEEL THE FEAR …AND DO IT ANYWAY (Susan Jeffers)
I BELONG IN THE WORLD
I DESERVE TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED BY MYSELF AND OTHER PEOPLE
I AM A GOOD PERSON
I HAVE MANY GIFTS TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORLD
I AM SAFE IN THE WORLD
I CAN BECAUSE I THINK I CAN
I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY
MY CONFIDENCE IS GROWING EVERY DAY
I AM BUILDING A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH MYSELF EVERY DAY
IT IS TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE FOR ME TO SAY NO
IT IS A GIFT TO THE WORLD WHEN I EXPRESS MYSELF AND MY TRUTH
I AM ABLE TO EXPRESS MYSELF CREATIVELY AND WISELY
I AM POWERFUL, VULNERABLE AND WISE
I CREATE PEACE OF MIND AND EASE FOR MYSELF
I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY OWN COMFORT
I PROTECT MYSELF AND KEEP MYSELF SAFE
ALL IS WELL-BEING
I AM ABLE TO EXPRESS MYSELF CREATIVELY AND WISELY
I AM AT ONE WITH MYSELF AND WITH THE UNIVERSE
I DESERVE TO SUPPORT MYSELF AND I DESERVE TO BE SUPPORTED IN THE WORLD
I HONOUR MY JOURNEY AND I HONOUR MYSELF
I HAVE POWER, STRENGTH, GRATITUDE, HUMILITY AND COMPASSION, THAT IS MY WISDOM
I AM MAKING ROOM FOR LOVE, HAPPINESS, PLAY, PEACE AND JOY.
I USE QUIET AND STILLNESS TO RECHARGE MY POWER AND STRENGTH
ALL IS WELL
I HAVE CREATED MY OWN SAFETY
I AM NOW POSITIVELY CREATING MY OWN LIFE
I EMBRACE A FUTURE OF JOY, PEACE, HAPPINESS, LOVE AND PLAY
IT IS VITAL THAT WE MAKE TIME TO RELAX, HAVE FUN AND TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES, THIS IS WHAT HELPS US TO WORK AND LIVE MORE EFFECTIVELY
MEDITATION, RELAXATION OR JUST QUIET TIME WITH OURSELVES.
CREATE AN ATTRACTIVE WORKING/LIVING SPACE WITH MEANINGFUL OBJECTS, PICTURES, COLOURS THAT ENERGISE US. POSTCARDS ARE INEXPENSIVE, CHOOSE ONE THAT MAKES YOU SMILE. BUY OR PICK SOME FLOWERS, EVEN ONE SINGLE FLOWER. CHOOSE WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY?
LISTEN TO MUSIC, SING, DANCE, ENJOY SPORT OR WALKING IN NATURE.
FRESH AIR IS IMPORTANT WHEN WE ARE WORKING AND SLEEPING. WE NEED TO TAKE REGULAR BREAKS OUTSIDE WHEN WE CAN.
LEARN A NEW SKILL, A NEW LANGUAGE, GAIN A NEW QUALIFICATION.
TAKE PROPER BREAKS, WHETHER THIS IS A FIVE MINUTE BREAK TO STRETCH AND WALK AROUND, A WEEKEND AWAY OR A PROPER HOLIDAY. RECOGNISING WHEN WE NEED A BREAK IS VITAL FOR WELL BEING.
VISIT A PLACE THAT YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN BEFORE AND NOTICE HOW YOU ENJOY SPENDING TIME WITH YOURSELF. THIS CAN BE FUN.
SLEEP IS IMPORTANT AND IT IS ALL TOO EASY TO STAY UP TOO LATE, TOO OFTEN. WE NEED TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP WHEN OUR ENERGY IS DEPLETED. IT IS REGENERATIVE AND DREAMS ARE THE BEST WAY TO CLEANSE OUR SUBCONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS. OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM IS STRENGTHENED BY SLEEP. IF YOU ARE FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO TAKE SHORT NAPS WHEN YOU NEED TO, THAT IS VERY HEALTHY.
CREATIVE PURSUITS ARE CHALLENGING, RELAXING AND INSPIRING:PAINTING, SCULPTING, SEWING, COOKING, DRAWING, DRAMA, MAKING MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHY, DANCING, GARDENING, POTTERY, CREATIVE WRITING OR WRITING A DIARY, COLOURFUL DOODLING OR COLOURING. ALL OF THESE CAN BE ABSORBING AND ENERGISING WAYS FOR US TO EXPRESS OURSELVES EVEN IF WE ARE A BEGINNER.
PLAYING GAMES WITH FRIENDS: CARDS, BOARD GAMES OR COMPUTER GAMES CAN GIVE US ENERGY.
PURSUING A PASSION, AN INTEREST, AN IDEA, A DREAM, A LONGING, A GOAL CAN ALSO GIVE US ENERGY.
A MASSAGE, ANY KIND OF MASSAGE, IS WONDERFULLY RELAXING. YOU COULD DO A FOOT/HAND MASSAGE SWAP WITH A FRIEND OR PARTNER.
SOAKING IN A HOT BATH CAN BE RELAXING, IF YOU HAVE A BATH. ADD THE TO EXPERIENCE WITH A CANDLE, BUBBLE BATH, INCENSE AND/OR MUSIC.
WALKING IN A LABYRINTH…FIND ONE IN YOUR AREA…CAN BE HEALING AND RELAXING. THERE IS NORMALLY ONE PATH IN AND ONE PATH OUT. THE OBJECT IS TO ENJOY A WALK AT YOUR OWN PACE. YOU CAN FOCUS ON RELEASING SOMETHING NO LONGER HELPFUL TO YOU (AN OUTDATED BELIEF OR HABIT, A NEGATIVE PATTERN OF BEHAVIOUR OR OUTDATED THINKING OR A LIMITING ATTACHMENT) ON THE INWARD WALK; IMAGINE RECEIVING A STRENGTH YOU MAY NEED AT THE CENTRE; AND RETURNING WITH THAT ON YOUR OUTWARD WALK. SEARCH FOR A LABYRINTH IN YOUR AREA ON THE VERIDITAS LABYRINTH FINDER WEBSITE MENTIONED IN THE SECTION ON LABYRINTHS IN THIS BLOG.
CONTACT WITH PEOPLE, PLACES AND BELIEFS THAT ENERGISE OR RELAX YOU. NOTICE WHO AND WHAT GIVES YOU ENERGY AND WHO OR WHAT DRAINS YOU!
LAUGHTER IS ONE OF THE GREATEST SOURCES OF ENERGY!
DOING SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE HELPS US TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT OURSELVES.
IT CAN HELP WHEN WE BUY OURSELVES A TREAT, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE ARE PARTICULARLY BUSY OR STRESSED. ALSO, IT IS HONOURING OURSELVES WHEN WE REWARD OURSELVES FOR REACHING A PARTICULAR GOAL.WE ALL NEED TO PRIORITISE NURTURING OURSELVES IN ORDER TO BECOME OUR OWN BEST FRIEND……
Notice whether you feel more energised by eating a number of smaller meals spread over a day or whether you feel better to have two substantial meals and a larger gap, (daily fasting of 16 hours), before eating the next day, or something inbetween these two There are trends as to what creates healthy bodies and you are the best judge of what works best for you. It does seem helpful to most people to have your last meal of the day at least three hours before you go to bed.
EATING MORE REAL FOOD is certainly a healthier option. This means more fruit, salad, fresh herbs, nuts, seeds, grains, pulses and vegetables. These foods are comparatively cheap, easy to prepare and SO MUCH BETTER FOR US. Where possible, if we eat meat, it helps to choose organic meat which has less additives and less hormones.
LIMIT CIGARETTES, TEA, COFFEE, ALCOHOL, COLA AND COCOA DRINKS, SUGAR, SWEETNERS, PROCESSED/FAST AND OTHER ‘CHEMICALLY RICH’ FOODS. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol and nicotine add enormously to our stress and toxin levels in the body and foster a physical as well as a psychological addiction – this does not seem like relaxation or a freedom!
We can make small changes that are healthier: using sea-salt; cooking in coconut oil which can add an interesting taste to many meals and you don’t need a lot, a teaspoon goes a long way and heats up at lower temperatures; using walnut and other nut oils as part of salad dressings; adding fermented bean sprouts to any salad; using a good pro-biotic to fight off infections or enjoy yogurt or Kefir which are reputed to be an energising and healthy way of doing the same thing.
There are many good milk substitutes for dairy, which often has a variety of additives including hormones and anti-biotics. We can also benefit from using organic milk. It is now easier to buy a variety of different nut milks, oat milk, soya milk and others. Goat and sheep cheeses are a healthy alternative to cow’s cheese. Haloumi is a good example of this.
A good quality honey is a very healthy and nourishing alternative to sugar and a little goes a long way. You can now buy a halva which just includes honey and no sugar if you want something sweet and nutritious.
Fruit and nuts, especially dried fruits, are an ideal snack food if you want some energy inbetween meals.
When we are really thirsty, there is nothing quite like a fresh glass of water and if we are detoxing after an illness, operation or a ‘heavy night out’ water helps us to detox and can sometimes top headaches caused by dehydration.
EXERCISE DOES US GOOD PHYSICALLY BUT IT ALSO MAKES US FEEL BETTER MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY, CONTRIBUTING TO A GENERAL FEELING OF WELL BEING. GOOD EXERCISE IMPROVES OUR ABILITY TO SLEEP AND IS AN EXCELLENT WAY TO REDUCE ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND STRESS. IT INCREASES MENTAL AGILITY AND CLARITY OF MIND AND THEREFORE IS VITAL AS A TOOL TO COMBAT STRESS.
It is important for us to do some form of exercise that we can easily build into a daily routine and most important of all is that we choose something that we ENJOY doing!
WALKING IS ONE OF THE BEST FORMS OF EXERCISE. IS THERE ANYWHERE YOU COULD WALK INSTEAD OF USING CAR OR PUBLIC TRANSPORT, AND SAVE MONEY TOO?
Is there any sport which you would enjoy doing on your own or as part of your social life? What sport did you most enjoy doing as a child? Could you just take time out to dance to your favourite music?
SWIMMING, GARDENING OR WALKING CAN BE RELAXING AND A GOOD WAY OF TAKING A BREAK FROM WORKING. TIME OUT ALLOWS THINKING TIME AND ALSO ALLOWS OUR BRAIN TO PROCESS INFORMATION SO THAT IT CAN BE BETTER ABSORBED AND ‘MATURE’ LIKE A GOOD WINE! IT IS DURING OR AFTER SUCH A BREAK THAT CREATIVE IDEAS AND SOLUTIONS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BUBBLE TO THE SURFACE.
When you listen to music, try moving/dancing on your own and see how your energy changes.
TAKING A WALK INTO OR AROUND ANY COUNTRYSIDE OR BEAUTIFUL PARKS/GARDENS AROUND WHERE YOU LIVE. THIS IS DUAL PURPOSE BECAUSE YOU CAN ALSO TAKE IN AND ENJOY NATURE WHICH IS A NATURAL ‘STRESS EATER’!
The most important thing is that we do something that we ENJOY and that we don’t turn it into a punishment!
DO YOU NEED TO ADD EXERCISE TO YOUR WEEKLY SCHEDULE?
Are we giving ourselves enough time out – time to do something for ourselves? (entertainment/exercise/creativity/fun/play/friends/relaxation).
Are we having enough breaks? – breaks give us more energy and hence time to do the things we have to do. (real lunch breaks; a change of scene; time to talk to others) (even short breaks help: get up/walk about/stretch/take a few deep breaths)
Are we tackling the most demanding tasks when we’re tired? (wait until we’re fresh for the most difficult things to do) Are we bottling anything up?(need to talk to someone)
Is it hard to get started? (an affirmation may help: I can do this…)
Do we recognise when we need help?
Are we pacing ourselves? (we need to stop just before we get too tired; if we are saying to ourselves, ‘one more thing’ –it may be time to stop NOW!)
Are we prioritising and planning our time AND allowing for interruptions? (we can do things that give us energy first – put them top of the list)
Are we carrying responsibilities for other people’s work and responsibilities? (we may need to let go)
Are we attached to aiming to be perfect? This will slow us down, better to get it done and be effective. (70% is a good enough!)
Are we going too fast? (slowing down gives us time to think more clearly and take stock)
Are we too reactive to things that wind us up? (work at not reacting; distract ourselves even use a mantra/colour/image to STOP reacting. We could design for ourselves a STOP sign!) What would be a better response? (it is powerful when we take time to choose to respond differently)
Are we setting realistic expectations?
Are we using our imagination to worry or pile work/the future on our heads?(change what we are imagining to something productive and creative)
Are our beliefs/feelings/thoughts weighing us down? (change our focus to half full glass not half empty especially about ourselves) (can do rather than can’t; positive self talk rather than negative self talk)
Are we too easily distracted? (we can imagine putting all negative distractions outside our office door/at home or if they are really intruding – we may need to prioritise them first/take a break)
Do we give ourselves time for a ‘well done’? (rewarding ourselves in some way is vital for inner motivation)
Are we working too long on one task/getting bored? (take a break and come back renewed or do something else for a while) (we may want to mix up activities – balance again!)
Are we laughing enough? (laughter and smiling changes our body chemistry and gives us lots of energy)
Being assertive means balancing a concern for others with a concern for ourselves. This is a skill that makes our communication clear and effective. It means we respect the rights of others and ourselves to say NO; to receive respect; to express views, thoughts and feelings in a manner which does no harm to anyone else or ourselves; the right to make mistakes; the ability to take responsibility for our actions; the right of all of us to set priorities and boundaries for ourselves; the right of all of us to consider our own needs to be as important as those of others; the right not to feel guilty when being assertive!
SOMEONE WHO IS ASSERTIVE IS COMING FROM A PLACE OF I’M OKAY AND YOU’RE OKAY
One way for us to achieve this position is to build up a positive relationship with ourselves and especially to speak to ourselves in a kind and loving way. It is easier to be assertive if we change some of our self criticisms to self encouragement and self support. Remember that we deserve to be able to express ourselves honestly, openly and assertively.
In order to accurately assess what is assertive communication, it might be useful to focus on the extremes of passive and aggressive communication, and find that middle place between those two. Is is important to consider body language, spoken and writen communication.
Passivity is when someone is denying their own rights and is self-effacing. It can include body language such as: shifting of weight; downcast eyes; hand wringing; steps backwards; shrugs; a hunched body posture; a hesitant, giggly, quiet or whining voice. Non-assertive words can include words and phrases such as: perhaps…; maybe…; I wonder if you could…; only…; just…; would you mind very much…; I can’t…; or fillers such as: you know; well; uh; um. Also, common passive statements are: it’s not really important; never mind; I mean; it’s all right; don’t bother.
Aggressive communication is when someone is denying the rights of others and is typically angry, hostile or loud. It can include body language such as: glaring eyes; leaning forward; pointing a finger; thumps of the fist; a sharp, sarcastic, angry, loud or dominating tone of voice. Aggressive words can include threats such as: you better…; if you don’t…watch out; or discounts such as: come on; you must be kidding; and judgemental comments such as: I thought you would know better; this is your fault; don’t be stupid; you’re joking; and lots of ought’s, should’s and must’s.
Indirect aggressive communication is when people use the language of the passive combined with body language from the aggressive communication.
Assertive communication involves body language which matches the spoken message: an assertive person would establishgood eye contact; a good upright, comfortable posture,without anxious fidgeting; a strong, clear, steady voice, neither shouting nor mumbling. Being clear about specific details with regard to time, place, context and reference etc.
Assertiveness involves careful and active listening, without mind-reading, assumptions and judgements. There is a process of checking out and clarifying that what the person understands corresponds with what was intended so that both parties share an understanding of the communication.
Assertive words include ‘I’ statements such as: I think…; I feel…; and I want…; as well as co-operative words such as let’s…; we could…; and empathetic statements of interest such as: what do you think; how do you feel;
HOW TO BECOME MORE ASSERTIVE
The first stage of changing anything is to notice what we are doing now, so I we may need to take a step back from ourself and from others and notice how we are talking to people and how we respond. Notice how other people treat us and how they respond to us, taking into account the information above. Also, notice our energy around other people, who do we feel comfortable with, who gives us energy. When we are giving or receiving aggressive or passive behaviour it can be quite a drain on our energy levels. Self protection is important and there may be occasions when walking away is the best solution to avoid a situation escalating into violence or bullying.
Assertive communication and behaviour feels good, mature, equal, is a very straight way of communicating with other people. It is mostly energising because there is an equal exchange of energy which leaves neither person drained. This style of behaviour and communication is most likely to leave us feeling positive about ourselves and about the other person.
After a time of “noticing” we can make a choice to change something about our communication or behaviour, one step at a time. We can choose to focus on being particularly assertive for one hour of the day, or with a particular person, or over a particular event or occasion. Change is better tackled in small “bite size pieces” at first . We need to enable ourselves to notice and feel good about any changes we make.
If we have a particular situation in mind where we want to be assertive it can help to do a role play. Set up two chairs and role play, in turn, being both ourself and the other person. Notice what it feels like to give and receive assertive communication. We can ask a friend to help us. Role plays are empowering and are an excellent way of being prepared.
A useful phrase, if we are invited to do something is: “I’d like to come/help but I need to think about it and/or check my diary – I’ll get back to you tomorrow/next week/ later today/ in a while”. This gives us time to think through our response.
It is useful to change words like should, must, ought to the freedom of could.
It may be necessary to politely and calmly repeat what we want more than once, especially if someone is being manipulative or argumentative – we need to stick to our point of view, without getting side-tracked.
Calmly acknowledge to any critic, that there may be some truth in what he or she is saying. This allows us to remain our own judge of what we do. Equally, we may need to accept someone else’s criticism. What is important is that we can receive criticism comfortably without agreeing or not agreeing with them, without becoming defensive or explaining ourselves. This way we stay empowered without disempowering the other person.
Actively ask for criticism in order to use the information (if helpful) or reject it (if manipulative). This helps our critic to be more honest or assertive and less manipulative or aggressive and hence improves communication. Again we keep our power and empower the other person. We can offer a workable compromise to the other person as long as our self worth or self respect is not in question.
Part of being assertive is for us to feel okay about asking other people for help and being able to offer help to others. It is important for us to feel okay about giving and receiving compliments or thanks.
When we feel irritated by someone or something, we may need to take a deep breath and pause before we react. Choose whether we want to use our energy on this or not. We need to save our energy for important issues.
Useful phrases if someone is attempting to escalate the conversation into a full scale argument or wanting to leave us feeling guilty might be “That’s interesting”; “I hear what you say”; “I’d like time to think about/consider what you are saying”. We do not have to explain ourselves and to do so can sometimes be a discount of us. Remember other people can invite us to feel discounted or manipulated but we have a choice as to whether we agree with them and how or even whether we respond.
The main point about assertive communication is that we and the other person both remain “winners” and “okay”.
K. Akhler,Self Talk Your Way to Success, Amazon Media, (2009).
Richard Bach , Jonathan Livingstone Seagull: A Story. Harper Thorsons, (September, 2015). An inspirational story about a seagull finding freedom and independence, love and kindness.
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly:How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transfrms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, (January, 2013). A book about how powerful it is to be vulnerable – insirational talks by Brene Brown on ‘Teds Talks’.
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Think You Ought to Be Who You Are , Hazelden, (September 2010). Again, any of her lectures on ‘Ted’s Talks’ are inspirational.
Paul Coelho, The Alchemist: A Fable about following Your Dreams,HarperOne, 25th Anniversary edition, (February, 2015). A simple fable based on simple truths. An Andalucian shepherd boy pursues his dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian Pyramids.
Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. The Art of Happiness. Riverhead Books, (1998). A Handbook for Living.
Michael Ende, Momo, Puffin Books, (2009). “And it is Momo, with her uncanny ability to listen, her simplicity and honesty, who holds the key to salvation.” (A book for children and adults!)
Ben Furman. It’s Never Too Late To Have A Happy Childhood . BT Press, (1998). From Adversity to Resilience.
Susan Jeffers, The Little Book of Confidence, Ebury, (December, 2013) and The Little Book of Peace of Mind, Jeffers Press, (May, 2015).
Jasmin Lee Cori, Healing from Trauma, Da Capo Press, (April, 2009).
Maddy Malhotra, How to Build Self Esteem and Be Confident, Betterment Publications, (2013).
Gerson Maso, Through the Valley. The Journey of an African Refugee, Westbow Press,(2015).
Judy Murphy, Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Win the Respect of Others, Kindle unlimited, (November 2011).
Gulwali Passarlay and Nadene Ghouri, The Lightless Sky: My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee: An Afghan Refugee Boy’s Journey of Escape, Atlantic Books, (October 2015).
Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Faber and Faber, (September 2015).
Chris Riddle (Children’s Poet Laureate), My Little Book of Big Freedoms, Amnesty International, (2015). See also: Amnesty International’s We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, (2015)
Michael Rosen, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, Walker, (January 2011).
Eckhard Tolle, The Power of Now, Hodder and Stoughton,(2001) and A New Earth , Gale Cengage Learning, (2005). Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
J. Tugendhat, Living with Grief and Loss. London: Sheldon Press, (2005).
Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score, Penguin, (September 2014)
Doreen Virtue, Assertiveness for Earth Angels, Hay House, (November 2013).
Peter Walker, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. A guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma, Azure Coyote Publishing, (December 2013).
Websites with information about counselling and finding a counsellor:
Talks: Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing”, standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident, can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.http://www.ted.com/talks/amycuddy. See also: http://www.ted.com/speakers/amycuddy.