As we arrive in adulthood, our level of self esteem reflects how nurturing and supportive the people around us were. The way our parents, teachers, family and friends regard, judge, love, value, respect and behave towards us helps to create how we regard, judge, love, value, respect or behave towards ourselves. This includes people who have social, cultural and political power over our well being. None of these people exist in a vacuum so their behaviour towards us will have been influenced by their own experiences, beliefs, cultural, religious, political and social norms. So, we receive messages about ourselves from many different people for many different reasons but that doesn’t make them true and such messages ARE NOT SET IN STONE!


We may not have had control of how other people viewed and treated us but we can take control of our future view and treatment of ourselves. We can choose to get to know our strengths, skills and positive aspects and we can choose to build on these and learn to love, approve, accept and care for ourselves the best we can.

For many of us self esteem takes a pounding during the process of childhood, especially given the pressures that exist in schools, family life and in Society as a whole. There is much emphasis placed on ‘performance’. There is pressure to achieve at younger and younger ages: goals and grades; assessments and inspections. Children have become highly measured commodities. The fear, uncertainty, self doubt and negativity which can be generated by such a system can be a breeding ground for low self esteem. Many of us have learnt to exaggerate our mistakes and excel at self doubt and self criticism. Many children are having to deal with the stress and trauma of poverty, loss and separation, abuse, ill health and the results of war.

How can we turn this around and build self esteem. It is a freedom for us to emphasise what we ARE achieving, what we ARE capable of, what we ARE doing well and how loveable and amazing we are. Challenges, change, mistakes and crises are a part of each of our lives and it is from such experiences that we learn our best coping strategies and become aware of our many human strengths and abilities. We need appreciation for this from ourselves and from other people. It helps us to build confidence in ourselves if we acknowledge our strengths and positive skills, at least to ourselves!



One of the major tasks for us as maturing adults is to become wise and it is wise for us to build the best possible relationship with ourselves. Some of us have high self-esteem in some areas of our lives and maybe not in others. To feel good about ourselves leads us to to be powerful in our lives and can help us to transform outdated negative beliefs and behaviours into positive beliefs and behaviour. As we increase our self esteem and our confidence to do things better – it builds on itself! If you nurture and feed a plant it grows strong and healthy and produces the best flowers, fruit….we are the same, we become more more able to develop talents and gifts to take out into the world – we blossom!

The first step of regaining self esteem is to notice how we talk to ourself. Sometimes I have worked with clients in counselling and I notice that they have used the word ‘stupid’ about themselves several times in the first 10 minutes of the counselling. Often people are really surprised about this when it is pointed out to them. I’ve noticed too the number of times we may all say, ‘I can’t’. This can be disempowering and is often untrue. It helps us to become aware of how we speak to and about ourselves.

The most important relationship in our life, the longest lasting and most intimate is our relationship with ourself. In our relationship with ourself we are constantly talking to ourself. It helps us to notice how we speak to ourself, how we speak about ourself to other people, how we treat ourself, how we feel about ourself. Notice whether we can be more positive and kindly towards ourself. We all need love, support and encouragement. We need to become our own best friend. When this relationship is good, other relationships, our life in general, runs more smoothly! We need to emphasise our strengths, the things we do well and what we like about ourselves. We need to promote ourselves to ourselves and to the world in the same way that we would a friend.



One way we can build a solid centre inside ourself is to imagine a tall solid tower running through the centre of our bodies from our feet to top of our head, made of bricks. Every time we do something positive for ourselves: reward ourselves for something we have done well; buy ourselves a treat; visit somewhere we’ve always wanted to visit; phone a friend who encourages us; do something that gives us joy – listen to lovely music, read something that inspires us, buy a single flower to admire, take time to walk somewhere beautiful, visit an art exhibition which inspires us, make ourselves a lovely meal…imagine that this adds a solid brick to that tall internal tower, strengthening us at our very centre. Then, imagine that when we do something that harms ourself: put ourself down, put up with something or someone that harms us, smoke, eat, drink too much so that we feel bad, hoard too many things around us so that our space is uncomfortable….this takes a brick out of that centre and weakens the strength and power of that brick tower which can make us feel more vulnerable and weaker in our very centre. Then think of more positive things to do. The more commitment we make to ourself, the better we will feel. We are worth it!


It can be helpful for us to use affirmations. If we think of a positive statement that is the opposite of how we might normally think about ourself and just say it over and over again to ourself as we are walking along, as we are waiting in a queue. When we do this and notice what happens in our body, we can feel a lightness of step, a lift of energy. Just as when we smile or laugh it has a real ‘feel good’ effect. By using positive statements, we can re-programme new messages into our self awareness and consciousness which can build our self esteem.

It can be helpful to give a few minutes to think about what we are grateful for about ourself. Gratitude about our many gifts, good health and well being is a vital part of moving forward positively. We could buy a special card, with a picture that we identify with in some way and write in it a list of things we enjoy about ourself and keep adding to it. How better to fall asleep than to think of a few positive things we have done that day, before we go to sleep. Often we can be good at dwelling on any negatives but the positive things might make you fall asleep with a smile on your face!


You may like to choose one of the following positive statements to say to yourself

a few dozen times. You could breathe it in slowly as you are sitting in a relaxed place or just before you go to sleep. Notice your energy levels change and keep going even if it sounds awkward at first.

Positive Statements to begin with until you can create your own!

I can handle anything that comes my way

I trust myself and I trust the process of life

Life is sweet and so am I

I welcome risks that expand my life

All is well inside and outside of me

I know this (meeting/seminar/presentation/interview) will go well

I belong in the world as a equal

I am loving myself more each day

I recognise my own successes

I am alive to joy, play and laughter.

I am powerful and I love it

It can take effort and work to regain a realistic and positive perception of ourself. If we allow ourself to know and recognise what we are good at and realise our potential in different aspects of our lives, then we may begin to recognise what a gift we are to the World and then we may take our space.




Tension and Tiredness can kill our creativity, our good sense, our will to live well.


How much harder it is to live the way we might choose to live when we are distracted by tiredness and tension caused by stress, pressure, lack of energy, burn out, rust out..or simply doing too much.

The difficulty can be that what we do about it can often create an illusion of helping and supporting us, but it doesn’t.

My favourite phrase is, ‘I’ll just finish this’…but if I rested at the point of tiredness, what I’m wanting to finish may be more polished and I may not end up so tired that I choose to do something that isn’t really helpful or healthy for me.

Watching television is great but sometimes it may seem like it is relaxing: sitting down, ‘doing nothing’…but often we are being overly stimulated and inactive in a way that knocks us further off balance and far from giving us energy, it takes more out of us.

Other times I know I head for something that has the illusion of being sustaining: an extra coffee that actually overstimulates me when I am already overstimulated; a quick fix of some salty peanuts or a chocolate bar that seems like it is comforting but actually numbs me out to what I may really need. It might be food that I need, but something more sustaining and not masked with the addictive qualities of sugar and salt. What about a piece of fruit we really like; a nourishing salad; a piece of cheese; a bowl of porridge and honey; a drink of hotwater, cold water, a fruit tea – something designed to give us real energy.

I now know that when I am tired or tense, sometimes I need very different things. It could be exercise; meditation; sleep or rest; it could be that I need to contact a friend and ‘chat’, ‘ let off steam’.  Often for me, it is that I need to be out in the fresh air connecting with nature; it could be that I need to do something creative or challenging if I’ve been bored or still for too long. It depends entirely on which of my own personal tanks is empty at any given time.

I believe that there are certain behaviours that many of us go into which we think is regenerating us, only to find that it takes us further away from having our real needs met to ease tireness and tension.

How could we help ourselves know what we need at different times ?

We could spend a few days being especially aware of those times that we feel extra tired and tense. Try different solutions and write down five things that really work to help us feel more energised, less tired and more at peace. Keep that list handy for those times when we feel that restlessness, tension, tiredness – that feeling of ‘running on empty’ that we all get sometimes.

This is a way to help us achieve the goal of living our lives the way we really want to, a little more often. This is real freedom, the freedom that self awareness gives us.

I know that when I do this, and I certainly don’t do it as much as I would like, I feel a sense of lightness that comes from freeing myself from those old attachments: to past habits, to familiar reactions, to old patterns of behaviour that don’t really give me the energy I am now looking for.

This is helpful for us as counsellors and for our clients, especially when we are making changes in our lives.

River Sculptures by Jos
River Sculptures by Jos



Trees entwined
Trees entwined

I once received an enquiry for counselling from someone who’d moved to our area from Edinburgh. They told me they’d been seeing two psychotherapists, a husband and wife team for 9 years, two or three times a week.  I asked a bit more about what they felt they needed and suggested that maybe they might find it valuable to have some time without therapy. If that was difficult, I gave them the number of a local counselling group, which might dilute the dependence they had developed with their previous therapists.

It seems to me that therapy which holds up a mirror to a client but enables them to take that mirror away with them is considerably more helpful than a mirror held up to a client that remains firmly in the hands of the therapist.  Quite often charismatic therapists, healers, gurus and other support can create a dependence in clients which can become increasingly unhelpful, and expensive!


Two of the most valuable workshops I’ve attended, to free myself more, both as a counsellor and as a writer, were two one day Nose to Nose Clowning Workshops, facilitated by the late Jackie Moore at the Blackthorn Trust in Maidstone. This experience led to my being able to let go of some of those expectations of myself that I had been carrying.

Once the red nose was in place, the most important lesson I learnt was that it was hard to be in the here and now, present to myself and/or present to an audience, when I was carrying a sack full of expectations on my back. The heaviness of fear, anxiety and those questions: ‘What do I have to offer?’; ‘Can I get this right?’; ‘Can I do this as well or even better than other people?’; ‘Why can’t I do this?’ needed to surface and then be eliminated. Jackie was a very accepting, compassionate and an enthusiastic facilitator. She knew just what it was like for us.

It was only when I allowed myself to be vulnerable to, ‘not know how to do this’, that a space opened up to a trust, faith and belief that anything might be possible and I didn’t have to know what that would be. I could just allow something or nothing to happen. This was not an easy thing to achieve.

We all grew in different ways and watching other people perform and free themselves to be creative was just as much a joy as realising I could ‘let go’ of expectations and be vulnerable too. It was only when I was able to open myself to just being in the moment that I finally relaxed into finding the clown within me. What I took away from these workshops was the realisation that we all have that clown within us, it is just about allowing it to have the space to be whatever it wants to be in that moment.

‘Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.’

Edgar Degas

The transferable skill that I took into the counselling room with me was the ability to trust and allow the counselling to unfold. Although I was responsible for managing the space in the counselling room, I didn’t need to control it or in any way make something happen. Counselling can be a gentle process of allowing that self expression and self awareness happen. Each of our clients is truly the expert on themselves and they have come into counselling to find something that they want. We can trust the client, ourselves and the process, it is a special relationship that happens, each of us with ourselves and with each other, allowing and freeing a process to unfold as it needs to. Counselling, like clowning is a creative process. I believe I became a better counsellor as a result of doing these two short workshops. They also involved a lot of laughter with and at the other participants which was in itself therapeutic.

‘Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.’

Victor Borge

The photo above is of Carol Thompson who is a Clown Facilitator and Laughter Leader working in London:  She’s also involved in a Therapeutic Service which helps children recover from past traumas, develop confidence and self esteem:  The main Nose to Nose website is: and Carol’s page on that site is:


The Secrets of Chinese meditation ( from Google free images)

I made a New Year’s resolution that if I had been talking to someone, reading or watching something that was distressing close to bed time, I would find something to do, watch or read that would make me smile or laugh, even if it was just for 15 minutes. It leaves a good taste from the day and my step is lighter up the stairs to bed.

I was lucky enough to have a mum who had a very earthy sense of humour and I could share any joke with her that I heard at school, really ANY joke. She would laugh, sometimes ask me to explain, and then if it was a bit too risqué, she would tell me not to repeat it to anyone else. When our family sat around the dining table and someone said something that could be taken two ways, she would suddenly look utterly fascinated by the garden. I knew she was avoiding meeting my gaze. If that happened, we would both end up with tears streaming down our faces in fits of giggles. I have been both blessed and cursed by occasional bouts of uncontrollable giggles, especially at times when it was least acceptable to show it. It was never cruel laughter but once or twice it did get me into trouble. There have been nearly one and half million viewings of the Hannah Sargeant, Funny Nativity, video on YouTube:

When we are busy with life, it can be hard to make space for laughter, for noticing the ridiculous in the everyday. I was listening to a comedian recently who was describing the ordinariness of his bathroom and because he was a great observer, it was surprisingly funny. I love to spend time with friends who I can laugh with. It ripples positive energy throughout our bodies and is such a release of those tensions and stresses that we absorb and can become so easily attached to. My husband, Chris and I are fortunate to share a similar earthy sense of humour about little things. This morning on a walk, a blackbird was pulling and pulling at a worm. We stopped to watch as he eventually won his rather too long and heavy prize. As he carried it across the path in front of us, he trod on it rather awkwardly and ended up with only a tiny fraction of the worm in his beak. He flew off in disgust as we laughed but we noticed that he did come back and retrieve it! When our children were young, it was a pure joy to hear them laugh out loud when we were playing games or watching something on television.

I read recently that the third largest reason for people seeking medical help is for depression and certainly when I was counselling, this was one of the largest categories of presenting problems. The pressures in schools and the working world of high expectations; lack of money; fewer jobs; expensive housing and seemingly less time for everything creates enormous stress. One important way of relieving this is to take the time to notice those things that lighten our load. In counselling, I would often use humour as a way of encouraging people to become self aware, notice repeat behaviours and be able to gently laugh at themselves for ‘doing it again’ rather than getting shameful, angry or self abusive because, like all of us, they were not ‘perfect’.

We all experience ups and downs and we need to accept and normalise the whole gamut of human feelings. However, we can find ourselves forming more attachment to negative outcomes rather than positive outcomes, we can become stuck for longer in negative thoughts and feelings. To lift ourselves out of this, it can genuinely help us to focus more on what makes us laugh. The balance we achieve in doing this enhances our good health and well being. Many of us are in serious need of a dose of laughter to lighten our lives on a daily basis.

How Does That Happen?

On a visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica Cathedral in Budapest, I found myself pondering some large questions: Why do we still go to war? Why do men abuse women and children?  As I stood looking at the beauty in that place, I found an answer that made sense to me.

Budapest Skyline

What came to me was perhaps obvious: that just as day and night, feast and famine, hot and cold are on a continuum, so are our capacities as human beings to be free to choose to be creative and/or destructive .  In that cathedral, created with such passion, there were exquisite carvings and paintings depicting both beauty and images of soldiers, swords and other instruments of war.  We are capable of every extreme of feeling, together with the imagination and ability to act upon it or not. The more power, strength and potency that we gain as human beings, some people will act with grace, generosity and creativity and others will act in a way that is mean, corrupt and destructive. Realistically, we all have some of both and certainly as I get older these two extremes seem less clear.  Sometimes we may think we are being honorable but can be driven by ego and sometimes we may make real mistakes that teach us and aid us to jump forward on our journey towards enlightenment. However, we are certainly helped on our way if we can temper our power, strength and potency with love, humility and wisdom which is easier to do if we have had an experience of ‘plenty’ and a loving family life. This poem grew out of these questions.

What It Begins With:

It begins with the welcome given to a baby;

the nurturing given to a child;

that spirit of love held in a family;

the friendship bonding a community;

a feeling of belonging to a country;

having a connection to the World.

There needs to be enough

for that baby and this world

to grow straight.

Then again, I have been humbled by the clients I have worked with who experience extreme deprivation and abuse and yet still choose to become creative, wise, loving, generous human beings, full of grace. How does that happen?


This is a link to an inspiring story of a healing journey that contains the essence of what we are beginning to rediscover for ourselves.Terry Wahls encapsulates 100% commonsense combining historical evidence and the most up to date thinking and research on restoring health to our brains and bodies with readily available fresh foods.

When considering what our emotional needs are, I sometimes think back to how life was for humans thousands of years ago, to consider what we most need to get back to: the care, love and protection of a family, a healthy environment, community, balance, space, fresh air, exercise, play, creativity and of course fresh food. This ‘Teds Talk’ by Terry Wahls rings true in every word.  The link to it is:


Pic du Carlit
Pic du Carlit

Counselling is a creative process and as each of us are the real experts on ourselves, anything that enables us to express ourselves in that process is fundamental to it. Self expression leads us to self awareness and that frees us to realise that we can continue as before or choose to do things differently.

I have never heard the story of a client that didn’t make sense to me once they explained their personal and family history. As we hear ourselves telling our story, and realise how we got to this place, it is then possible to explore what other choices we could be making. There are some basic needs that enable this process to work well:

  • A safe, calm, comfortable and confidential space, with an agreed confidentiality and time boundary managed by an ethical and professionally qualified and supervised counsellor.
  • We all need a counsellor who is encouraging and prepared to witness and listen to our story, in terms of how it is now and how it got to be like this for us.
  • Acceptance and understanding. (The word in Cherokee for Love is the same word for understanding – in the book ‘Little Tree’ by Forest Carter).
  • So many of us as clients come into counselling believing that there is something ‘wrong’ with us, because we have a high expectation of ourselves. It is vital to normalise that we all go through bad experiences, make mistakes, feel unable to cope sometimes. It is vital to normalise this and value the choices we may make as children to survive, which may not continue to suit us as we mature into adulthood. A common phrase I have found myself using a lot is: “Welcome to the rest of the human race”. There is a sense of all of us being in this place of grappling with what is and doing the best we can.

‘You did what you knew how to do, and when you

knew better, you did better.’

Maya Angelou

  • Something deeper – Compassion. It is hard to work with people and not feel compassion for that courage and indomitable spirit that moves us through some of our toughest times.
  • Specific counselling tools that stimulate self-expression: writing, play, role play, art, meditation, visualisation, a walk in a labyrinth (see post under Labyrinths) both in the counselling room and for homework, depending on what might interest and inspire us.
  • Encouragement for us, as clients, to think, imagine, visualise, dream how our lives can be and what we may want to do differently.

When is comes to empowering us to make different choices, I have used a few exercises which seem simple but can be effective in enabling us to make new choices.

  • It can be valuable for us to notice how we make choices about simple things. For example, if we go into a cafe, how do we choose if we want food or drink; something savoury or sweet; something hot or cold. Do we habitually choose the same thing? Do we go along with what other people want? Do we really ask ourselves what we want to have today, that might be exploratory and different? What happens if we sit in a different seat or walk a different way than is our normal habit?
  • It can be interesting for us to take time out to try on clothes in a charity shop but make an effort to see what we look like in a different styles, colours, shapes than we would usually do…something out of our comfort zone and notice how that feels. What might we learn about ourselves?
  • Also, it can be useful to spend a half day or a day on our own in an unknown city or town and discover what we might like to do that perhaps we don’t normally allow ourselves to do – that relationship with ourselves that is so important to explore.
A Conversation
A Conversation


This is a hand out for the Group on Taking Our Space  but could be used as a handout or as a point of discussion with any client in individual counselling. It can help us to reach our goals and ideals by the use of visualization. It can help us to name our intentions to ourselves as well as  ‘putting out an intention’ into the larger world.  List your ideal goals in each of these main life areas below:

Clouds on Amherst Island

What would you like to be doing in two years time?







What would you like to be doing in seven years time?







Choose one of these, close your eyes and visualise yourself being in this position in every minute detail.  Have fun with it. If you picture yourself in a room, describe the room in detail to yourself: colours, shapes, scent.  Imagine the people around you in detail.  Make this visualization come alive for you.  You could do this for each of your goals.  Then with a friend or with your counsellor you could discuss what steps you need to make to reach these goals. Consider the small changes that you could make which could put you further forward on the path that you choose to be on.

Remember that whenever we choose to move forward positively in one area of our life it has positive affect on other aspects of our life.




So often when clients come into counselling, they are distressed about the fact that things in their life are not going well, that everything is not ‘perfect’, that they are not ‘perfect’.  Despite the fact that this is a completely unrealistic expectation for any of us to have about ourselves or others.  Instead of which, it is so often the mistakes we make, the negative experiences that we have, the limitations that are placed on us by circumstances, ourselves and others that help us to change and become wiser. I used to keep this quote from Leonard Cohen on my counselling room wall; it is a useful hand out:





(Leonard Cohen)