Tag Archives: WELL BEING

GROUP ON TAKING OUR SPACE: TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES, NUTRITION AND EXERCISE

TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES

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.

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  • 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……

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NUTRITION

  • 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.

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EXERCISE

  • 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?

IF SO, WHAT NEW EXERCISE WOULD YOU CONSIDER?

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GROUP ON TAKING OUR SPACE: QUESTIONS TO HELP US INCREASE OUR ENERGY

DSC_0389QUESTIONS TO HELP US INCREASE OUR ENERGY

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)

GROUP ON TAKING OUR SPACE: ASSERTIVENESS

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BEING ASSERTIVE

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.

DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION:

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 establish good 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.

ASSERTIVENESS SKILLS

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”.

 

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GROUP ON TAKING OUR SPACE: RESOURCES TO INSPIRE AND INFORM

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RESOURCES TO INSPIRE AND INFORM

Books:

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).

Wajdy Mustafa, Levant Fever: True Stories from Syria’s Underground. Juspax (November 2015).

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:

http://www.bacp.co.uk/ The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

www.counselling-directory.org.uk

http://www.baatn.org.uk/ The Black and Asian Therapy Network.

http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/useful-resources

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.

GROUP ON TAKING OUR SPACE: SELF ESTEEM

WHAT IS SELF ESTEEM?

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!

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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!

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REGAINING HIGH SELF ESTEEM:

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.

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BUILDING A SOLID CENTRE:

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!

AFFIRMATIONS:

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!

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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.

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LAUGHTER IS A SERIOUS BUSINESS

The Secrets of Chinese meditation (asblsima.be 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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihQuiyV-lXU

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.

FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERING

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:

RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING

FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERING

THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING

THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN

(Leonard Cohen)

SEXUALLY SPEAKING

In 1977, I began my counselling training with the, then Marriage Guidance Council, now Relate.  It was a very thorough training, but there was one section I thought I had failed.  It was a session, entitled, ‘Sexually Speaking’.  Our group sat in a silent circle with no idea what to expect.  The tutor sat down, introduced herself to us and asked me to begin by talking for 5 minutes on Male Arousal.  My mind went instantly blank. My dry mouth attempted to mutter a few inane comments about things that might achieve an erection for a man. Then, I froze into four and a half minutes of silence.  As we went around the circle, most people seemed to manage to find something to say about different sexual topics, men being asked about what happens for women and women being asked about what happens for men. I was convinced I would be failed on this section of the course.  Near the end, someone was asked to speak about Impotence. After their allotted 5 minutes, I found my voice, saying, “I know exactly how that feels, because my fear of performance at the start, rendered me totally impotent”.  This seemed to be enough to redeem my poor efforts earlier and I came to appreciate these sessions enormously throughout the three years of my training.

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I believe it was important for us as counsellors to get used to hearing ourselves and others speak about all aspects of sex in a mixed group. We learnt a lot. I decided to create something similar, specifically for clients who acknowledged that they had never felt particularly comfortable about their sexuality and sexual relationships. It was such a valuable tool, especially for younger clients but many of us can feel inhibited about this, at any age!

This was not something I would do early on in the counselling until I assessed that it would be useful and that there was a high degree of trust in the client counsellor relationship.  I would explain what would be involved and if the client wanted to go ahead, we would put aside a whole session to focus on sexuality.  I don’t think there was anyone who approached it without some anxiety but rarely did anyone drop out.

I would begin by asking the client to tell me about how they learnt about sex, who from and what they had understood and felt about it.  I checked out if there were any questions they still wanted to ask, anything they felt unsure about or wanted to discuss. We would move on to how they had felt about the relationships between their parents, other family members, what information and messages they had taken on board about sex, love, relationships, marriage, separation and divorce.  The discussion would then focus on their own developing history, sexually, physically and emotionally, including their values. This would lead into what they wanted out of a relationship in the present; what might be holding them back; what their anxieties might be and most important of all what their strengths were.

I would never know how the session would develop and this would be led by what the client disclosed and discussed.  There were some times we would get into a discussion of flirting,  leading to a homework of watching how other people do it, for clients who were afraid to even look at people they were attracted to; other times it led to clients going shopping for clothes that felt more ‘sexy’ – one moving occasion was when an older client decided to buy some sexy underwear to express their sexuality to themselves, albeit that they had chosen a way of life that included celibacy; one young man asked what was meant by ‘the Change’, he’d heard his mother talk about it but hadn’t felt able to ask what it meant; another session resulted in a female client disclosing and accepting their erotic fantasies, about which they had been carrying an enormous amount of guilt –  they ended up buying and enjoying Nancy Friday’s book, ‘My Secret Garden’, a book reissued several times since then. There were other sessions when clients talked about sexual abuse or even a sexual attack that they had never previously spoken about to anyone.

What felt important about these sessions were two things.  The first was that this provided a space and permission to speak about an area about which some people feel inhibited. The second thing was that I noticed how clients became more confident and more comfortable from just using words about their sexuality, about every aspect of their body and about sex generally. I noticed how both their own use of sexual words and hearing me use the same language back to them gave permission and built an increased acceptance of sex as a natural part of life. I worked with clients from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds and for some of these clients, such sessions gave them an opportunity to talk about how they were affected by differences in sexual behaviour and sexual values living here in the UK.

Even in 2014, sex can be a daunting subject to talk about and I found these sessions helpful in my own training and most especially in my counselling. It was particularly helpful working with a young client group of university students who are not always as confident or informed sexually as we might assume.

 

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The Counselling Room

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The counselling room is a space that needs to be confidential, safe, quiet, comfortable and even energising, ideally a dedicated space specifically used for counselling. If this is not possible and it is shared with other agencies, it is hoped that the room is shared with compatible services. In counselling, we are often talking about situations that are traumatic, humiliating, angry making or anxiety provoking. It is not an easy thing to do. It is a risk for us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to talk to a stranger, albeit a professional, about our most personal feelings and private family life. The very least we can do as counsellors is make the space where this takes place as discreet and comfortable as possible.  The most important issue is the protection of confidential so that the client is not overheard or interrupted and is ideally not having to run the gauntlet of being seen entering the counselling service by the general public or people that they may know. Therefore the location of the counselling service is important and must reflect the value placed on the process of counselling and protection of the client.

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The process of booking an appointment needs to be sensitively and respectfully handled with appropriate training for reception staff.  I’ve had several office staff, who were extremely sensitive and aware of when a client needed to be seen urgently and may well have saved the lives of potentially suicidal clients. The waiting room needs to be welcoming, informative, confidential and a secure space.  It is important that there is an appropriate chaparone around within earshot of the counselling room to ensure the protection of both client and therapist and that a suitable space is left between appointments to ensure no overlap.

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The counselling room itself has to create a balance between, not telling the client too much about the counsellor’s own taste that could be distracting, but at the same time ensuring that it is not too impersonal.  It needs to be a well-appointed room with natural lighting, a suitable temperature, good quality comfortable chairs, an attractive decor and suitable soft furnishings so that the client feels valued and respected. It can be an advantage to have plants, suitably restful and neutral paintings, gentle lamplight, colourful rugs, a clock, candles (if using the same room for meditation) or natural stones. It is important to have a box of tissues on display and pens or crayons which may be useful in the counselling process. It would be an advantage to have a toilet within the service with a mirror and a source of water and a glass so that clients can have a drink of water if they’ve been upset.

I found that just having a few natural stones and crystals encouraged some clients to share rather more unconventional stories about themselves. They told me they had done so because they had seen something they considered as ‘alternative’ in my room.

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At one point, I did have my room ‘space cleared’ and the person doing it felt there was an underground stream underneath the building I was working in which created a turbulent energy in the room.  Once the energy of this stream was removed, I was actually less tired at the end of a day counselling. What amazed me most was that the first day of counselling after this was done, three of my clients and one member of staff told me how ‘different’ my room felt and two of them said it felt more peaceful.  I had not mentioned anything at all about it being space cleared to any of them!  I did find out later that there was an underground spring under the college I was working in at the time.