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Entries in psychological (35)

Friday
Aug222014

Less Alone in a Group of Strangers.

How can someone sit in a group of strangers and feel more calm, connected, heard, loved and seen than they do in their normal every-day life waiting outside the doors? 

The fact is that many people do. The company of strangers becomes a place to heal from "normal" life.

Many people feel alone, isolated, lonely, "different" - particularly when surrounded by friends and family. Even those who have large numbers of familiar people in their lives are more open, calm, comforted and less alone in the company of strangers - sharing their deeply-held and closely-guarded secrets, exploring their most challenging feelings and simply learning to be themselves in the absence of the expectations of others. 

Perhaps, with a group of strangers there is nothing to prove; we are not even sure what we should be hiding from them so we don't bother raising the facade we use with everyone else?

Maybe we recognise that there, we get to test-drive or at least explore a "new" version of us - one that feels better and fits better, one that is less exhausting than the version we currently show?

Could it be a sign that we no longer have the energy to raise that well-worn facade for yet another group of people - leaving us with no place to turn where we can truly be ourselves? 

It is when we choose to be what others expect of us that we are the most disconnected from ourselves. In living up to the expectations of others, we abandon our relationship with, and knowledge of, ourselves.

In the absence of these expectations, we are free to make other choices about how we behave, think, feel.

It's one of the great paradoxes of life that there, in a group of strangers, we are more at "home".

Sarah xx

 

 

 

 

Saturday
May242014

The Loss We've No Time to Grieve.

It was Maya Angelou who said “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

The life situation missing from Ms Angelou's short list is the one about "handles parenthood". Perhaps that's why we underestimate the impact that this momentous change in everything about our lives will have on us?!

After all, we spend a good few years working things out: finding our place in school; perhaps studying, getting a job, working out our place in the working world, finding our feet in relationships and getting to a place that society would call 'sorted' or successful or surviving.

Then we think we are ready to have children (or it happens) and so we begin that process. 

If we are lucky enough to have those little people arrive in our world, we are sure we are relatively prepared for what it all means. We can look around and say to ourselves "if they managed it, we will be OK". We buy or collect all the necessary (distracting) items required to help us raise our children the “right” way. The marketing tells us that to be good parents we need this and that. 

What we are not prepared for is the way in which the experience challenges our previously held ideas about ourselves and our place in the world.

Not only that but the experience of parenting and handling the challenges to our self-view are enough to completely knock us sideways – we were so sure of our place before ... and suddenly we are not. Instead we feel unhinged, disconnected, numb, clouded, and fragmented.

Some of us blame the baby: we feel guilty about that because a baby is so small and defenceless – that guilt makes us feel even worse about ourselves.  Some of us turn that blame on our partners: they don't do enough, they don't understand, it's their fault we are swirling around ... if they helped more we wouldn't feel so bad or so out of control or so out of our depth.  Our own parent's skills come into question: they did a bad job of preparing us, weren't there for us in this or that way. We blame the lack of money or the country we live in or the neighbours ... 

... but ultimately we suspect that WE are the problem. WE are somehow not good enough, not well equipped enough to be a parent. Afterall, WE made the choice to have a baby – a choice that, in our darkest moments, we regret because now we have gone and ruined the calm we had worked so hard to create. To add to matters, that choice we made has changed the relationship we have with our partner.

There is no turning back ... and the inevitable forward motion of life can be terrifying.

All of this conspires to rock our world so convincingly that many of us feel we are going mad. Combine that with messages via media that we are supposed to look and feel a certain way, back that up with comments from friends or other parents about how well they are handling it all – we can end up feeling very isolated, incapable and ultimately not up to the task.

It's no wonder we lose our confidence as parents, no wonder we struggle to remember what we wanted out of life before our children came along, no wonder we lose interest in careers or things that captured our attention before parenting. It's not that we don't have those interests, dreams, desires within us anymore. It's that our priorities have changed or we can no longer connect to the Self from before.

What we are never really told about becoming a parent is that not only will life never be the same again, Self will never be the same again. This loss requires a grieving process ... one we have little time, energy or headspace for when we have young children.

Sooner or later, we need to grieve the loss. If we don't, years, decades, lifetimes can pass without us reconnecting with Self. 

Sarah xx

 

Tuesday
Feb182014

Sitting in the discomfort.

It's been 4 months since we started our life in this new environment with a different language and culture, different schools for the children, different friends, different groceries in the supermarket, different climate... I was starting to feel settled. I was proud of what I had achieved in that time and amazed at how well things had been going. 

Just over a week ago I got a phonecall that has really shaken the "settle".

I am amazed again ... this time at how instability feels - how uncomfortable, how terror-filled, how nightmare inducing (literally!) and above all, how shocked I am at how temporary things are - even though I "know" in my head that it's always been this way and always will.

The hardest part is not slamming the door shut on hope. At different times I want to give in to my Mind that is taunting me with "see I told you this was too good to be true" and "I knew it - nothing THIS good could be real or last".  

I've been through all the emotions I can imagine. It hurts and it's hard. The work comes not from running away from the feelings, but in resisting the temptation to do so. I know this is life. And! (not but) the discomfort is excruciating some days.

So the work I am doing is to sit in it ... to just sit there in the discomfort, the pain, the fear, the anxiety and the not-knowing how it will all turn out. 

In doing so, I notice feelings of shame: shame at having let myself go, of having fallen so deeply in love, and having believed that I could have this wonderful experience. Shame that I had dropped my defenses enough to truly feel, to be vulnerable, to live whole-heartedly. 

I notice that naming my shame, my feelings and my fear has helped me stay in the experience rather than running away. Realising what I feel ashamed about has also reminded me of how I want to spend the time I have in this life: to live whole-heartedly no matter how excruciating the pain, true to my experience.

That realisation is where I feel myself lift - up out of the pain, the fear and the confusion - into a place of acceptance: acceptance that whatever is coming is going to be OK; of trust that I can cope with it, whatever it is. 

Beyond acceptance, I am grateful for the experience and it's lessons in vulnerability. I am thankful that I am still learning, noticing that I continue to find the courage to practice the things I say I want to have in my life: courage, whole-heartedness, sitting in the discomfort - walking the talk!

Of course I don't feel the lift all the time - I am still learning the "how" on this one :-) - but I am able to step back from the experience every now and then, to notice the dance of Self and Mind, to appreciate the difference between these two and to sit in the discomfort of learning and evolving towards a place I want to be

Where do you want to be evolving to, and what discomfort are you willing to experience to get there?

Sarahxx

Monday
Jan272014

Noticing the noise.

These days, I wake up at 4am and savour the moments of bliss before watching, noticing, observing my Mind fill with noise. 

When I had small babies, I would lie awake for hours worrying about getting enough sleep, raging against the lack of sleep I was able to get, fearing the daylight hours, fearing the night hours too. Getting up to a child in the night meant being awake at least 3 hours ... and it was making me sick. It wasn't the lack of sleep, it was my Mind keeping me awake and making me sick with worry, rage, frustration, fear. 

By accepting my being awake in the early hours, I have come to treasure it as a moment when my Mind is clear and less noisy than "usual". I get up and write, or read or research or listen to the gentle silence in my mind. 

Of course when the noise begins to take over my Mind, I notice I feel the need to get moving, do things, start on the list I want to get through for that day.  That noise is what I now recognise as anxiety in my Mind

Notice, I don't say "anxiety in me"?

My Mind and my Self are different: my Self is calm, centered, clear.

My Mind is full of noise: crazy stories, thoughts, judgements, ideas, fears, conversations had, conversations that need to happen, to-do list items, random sounds.  That is what I observe... when I step back from my mind and notice. 

This morning, for example, I noticed how I think about my ability to speak French as "intermediate", "it will never be more than that" and "I am intermediate or average at everything I do and have always been". I noticed these thoughts and wondered  "Really? ... where does this stuff come from?". 

These limiting thoughts are fairly benign: they relate to a skill that does not make or break my day - although has definitely led to all manner of frustration over the years!

But what if this kind of thinking is prevalent in other ways in my Mind ... and even more crucial, what if I am actually listening to it, believing it, holding it to be a truth, and living my life as if it's true?? What are the consequences of seeing that noise as a real part of me? 

These days I notice the noise and see it as separate from Self. These days I label it as noise, acknowledge its connection to the anxiety I feel, and accept that it is something I carry with me that does not define me. It is NOT me (Self), it is my Mind - that is all. 

Naming Mind and Self as different is a freedom we all have, if we choose.

Noticing the noise is a significant step to seeing the separation between Self and Mind and to reducing both anxiety and depression. 

When you listen to your noise, what do you notice?

Sarahxx

Tuesday
Feb052013

How am I making it through?

Apparently, the key to overcoming a long-held fear is to begin ... and so I did.  (here is what I did)

It helps to have important dates and milestones along the way: tests and assignments due regularly, and the grande finale of an exam in a couple of weeks that marks the end - except for the bit about waiting to see if I passed!. Some of the dates near the start were about giving up, pulling out, deferring. They were opportunities to bail on the whole mad scheme – to give into the fear. 

Make a start – that’s the hard part. 

Turn around and face the thing you fear. Diminish its power over you.

Name what scares you the most. Share it somewhere – write it down, tell someone, say it to the wind – whatever! Just get it out.

Then put one foot in front of the other. Each day do something little that helps you towards your goal. 

When (not if – cos it will!) looking at the big goal makes you feel queasy, glance away and decide on how you will proceed for today only. 

When the distractions arrive, or the self-talk creeps in telling you “it can wait” or “this is more important” – tell yourself “you made a start, this other stuff is resistance, you are on the path towards a goal and the only thing for it is to keep going”.

And the big distraction I was offered was impressive.

A couple of weeks into the course my son broke his leg. In our case, this meant that he needed to have three weeks off school, then it was two weeks school holidays. When he could finally return to school, I needed to go four times a day to help him up and down three flights of stairs (no lift). I had to pull back on my work hours, change appointments, stop doing as much writing, socialising, reduce my “free” time and dig in for a month.

When I was sitting in the hospital for two days while they sorted out his leg, I thought to myself “oh no, I just started … maybe I should pull out, this is going to be too hard to manage all at the same time”. It would have a been a decent excuse. But I knew it was just that!

An excuse. It was my fear talking.  So I kept going. 

And here I am, with two and a half weeks to go before the exam (THAT’S a whole other experience!) and while I am feeling quite anxious about the exam experience, I know that I am almost there. I know that I am closer to my goal than I would have been if I'd never started… that I am one big step closer to the thing I have wanted for so long.

I say a big step closer because this wasn't simply a case of studying a subject that doesn't enthrall me, this was about overcoming a fear that has plagued me for twenty-five years.

And now I am free - not because I passed (I don't know how this all ends) but because I am beyond the point where the fear has control of my life and my choices.  

Name the fear that is standing in your way ...

sarah xx