Is it time to give yourself a break?

My word, it’s been a long time since I updated on my blog- life has well and truly got in the way. But, you know what? I am not beating myself up about it, and do you know why? Because life is hard enough as it is, without me making myself feel worse!

How many of us are really kind on ourselves? Honestly? If you get a compliment today, what’s your first reaction? Is it to dismiss it? Or do we thank the person who gave us the compliment? Well, being that we are such a negatively biased species, we tend to dismiss the compliment in favour of self-rebuke; “What? This old dress? I got it in a sale and it doesn’t even fit me well!” Instead of “Thank you- it’s a pretty dress, isn’t it?”

So, why don’t we accept a compliment? Why is it so hard for us to do that? Well, only you can answer that question for yourself. I know why I do it- I feel that it might make me sound big headed. But then, like my Mum says- “If you’re not going to blow your own trumpet, who else will?”

The hardest thing I have had to do, was to create this website! I had to list ALL the good things about me, as a Counsellor. That was tough- trying to ensure that I did justice to my training, and myself, without making it sound pompous. I hope I got the balance right!

I was reading an article today about how being kind to yourself doesn’t make you weak or immodest- see, there is an article and study that was written, purely to show us all that being kind to ourselves is actually a good thing!

The article Resisting self-compassion: Why are some people opposed to being kind to themselves? (Robinson et al., 2016) took 161 young adult participants and asked them about their self-compassion and rated these based on 18 character dimensions. They were then given two scenarios where in one, they treated themselves with self-compassion and the other where they treated themselves harshly and were critical of themselves.

The cohort was then split in to two groups- those who were more self-compassionate and those who were more self-critical. Surprisingly, both groups, those who were more self-compassionate, and those who were less self-compassionate, tended to not differ in their opinions of self-compassion, or the fact that self-compassion is good for oneself and one’s wellbeing. However, the less compassionate group of the cohort said that after showing any self-care, they felt that they would see themselves differently; specifically, the less compassionate group felt that they would feel less ambitious, responsible, modest, careful, industrious and competitive, compared to those in the group who were rated as more self-compassionate!

Added to this, the less self-compassionate participants felt that after being self-critical, they would feel stronger and more responsible. So, what does this mean? Well, both groups of people are just as interested in success and achievement as each other, but the less compassionate group felt that being kind to yourself meant that you were weaker, as a person. Is this true? Is this really the case? The implications of this study is that we need to challenge the negative assumptions we have about being kind to ourselves, because it doesn’t change what is happening, but life is easier and less imposing if we do show ourselves a little self care.

So, how do we show ourselves self-care? Well, it really depends on what floats your boat.. Do you enjoy going to the gym, cooking, having your hair/nails done, walking the dog, yoga or just playing some games on your Xbox? It really doesn’t matter what it is you do, as long as you give yourself a little ‘downtime’ to concentrate on yourself.

It isn’t being selfish; it is taking care of yourself. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of anyone else around us? How can we cope when things get bad, if we don’t have a source of stress release? It is really up to you how you do this, but the main thing is that you do it!

I know, I know- life is busy and you haven’t got the time to take time out for yourself.. this is a real circular argument, however. If you are feeling stressed, because there is so much to do, then you need to take some time out for yourself, to de-stress yourself. Yes, there are kids to look after, washing to put on, dinner to cook. But all of that will still be there, even if you do take 30 minutes out of your day to focus on yourself.

After you’ve taken some time out, how do you think you will feel? A little better? Re-energised? Raring to tackle those problems? Yes, actually, it will make you feel better. I cannot promise you that you will be dying to wash the skirting boards clean, but you will certainly be looking forward to your next little bit of me time!

Everybody needs some time out, from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with saying so. We need to find creative outlets- life isn’t one single journey, from a-z, it is a great big wild adventure, and all those small moments in between, that’s what makes up life. So why not go out for coffee and cake, if it makes you feel better? Why not buy a new bag, if you can afford it? Visit that park you’ve been meaning to, because if you don’t enjoy the small moments, you certainly wont be prepared for the bigger ones.


Robinson, K.J., Mayer, S., Allen, A.B., Terry, M., Chilton, A. and Leary., M.R. (2016) ‘Resisting self-compassion: Why are some people opposed to being kind to themselves?’, Self and identity, vol. 15, no. 5, April, pp. 505-524.

 

 

Stuck For Something To Do?

So, in honour of our (not so) wonderful British summer, I thought that this week’s blog post should be aimed at all those parents out there- Just how do you survive the holidays with you children at home?

I happen to be one of those strange parents- the holidays for me are a joyous time! Yes, they are filled with shouting, crying, laughing and lots of rain, but it also means no school run, lie-ins and some real quality time with the family! Summer holidays are different for everyone- some people love them and some people loathe them, but, whichever one you are (a lover or a loather), we still have to get through them!

 

1 RELAX!!!

Unless you have an appointment or somewhere to be, why rush? Enjoy the fact that there is no school to rush about for and no clubs to ferry the kids to! Your kids have been working really hard for the last academic year- they deserve to have some time off!

One thing you could do is to get the kids involved in some meditation! No, not the kind of meditation you are thinking of, but a guided meditation. Using a progressive muscle relaxation can be a really useful life skill, believe it or not! By teaching your kids to relax and take a minute for themselves, you are arming them with weapons of defence for future stressful times, and lets face it, school, with all its testing and social pressures, can be a really stressful time!

There are plenty of free apps or websites available to get progressive muscle relaxation scripts- I quite like this one, which is available free (always a bonus!) https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Progressive_Muscle_Relaxation.pdf

You could also teach your kids to find a special place that is calming and relaxing- these techniques are great for pre-exam butterflies! Why not give it a try?

 

2 SLEEP!!!!

Remember when your little one’s were babies, and you thought you would never get a good nights sleep or a lie-in again? Well, now you can- legitimately!!! Again, your kids have had a hectic busy year- so have you! What else are the holidays for, but to kick back, relax and have a sneaky lie-in? So what if you didn’t get the washing done- there’s always tomorrow! Sometimes it is good to take things at a slower pace, recharge your batteries and get your head back in to a good space!

 

3 Switch off the electrics!!!

I don’t mean X-boxes or PlayStations- after all, research has found that (limited!) access to gaming teaches kids a lot about coordination, socialising, sharing, story telling and creativity! Have you ever played Minecraft with your kids? The stories and characters they create can be totally fascinating! But what I mean, is Social Media- we can spend all too long flicking through Facebook, Tweeting on Twitter or posting photo’s to Instagram. When we are doing this, and our kids see it, it becomes normalised. That’s what you do when you go out with people; you play on your phone.

Tear yourself away from it for a few hours- instead of taking a million photos in the play park, go ON the play park with your kids. Release your inner child!!! Now, wasn’t that fun?

 

4 Divide and Conquer!

What? Well, this one is for the parents who have multiple siblings to look after. I am sure that you will have the experience of having a 10 year old not want to do what your 3 year old wants to do; so, what do you do with that?

Well, contrary to popular opinion, children thrive on boundaries and timetables- they like to know what is happening and when it is happening and for how long it is going to happen! Why not spend Sunday night planning the week ahead? So that when your three year old wants to go to Peppa Pig world, and your ten year old complains, you can show them that you have space for them to choose something later in the week. This way, they can learn responsibilities and that dreaded word, sharing!

 

5 Dont Compare!

This one ties in with number 3- don’t compare your activities to those of your online friends! There life is different to yours, and yes, they may have gone to Euro Disney for a ‘quick’ weekend with the kids, but that doesn’t mean a camping holiday is inferior! Your time is what you make of it, so be CHILL! Engage with your kids and stop worrying about the Jones’s, because I can promise you, they’re trying to keep up with you, as much as you’re trying to keep up with them!

 

6 Let your kids get BORED!

You do not have to produce activities for them every single day! It’s part of childhood to get bored and then to experiment with trying to entertain yourself! Get them to create games, art projects, have a story telling competition- there is nothing wrong with suggesting activities to them, but they will never learn to entertain themselves if we don’t leave them to it!

 

7 SPORT!

Sport can be a fantastic activity- cycling, playing in the park, football or even just a yomp through the local forest or park! Whatever you do gets them out of the house, expending energy and, guess what? When you expend energy, you get tired! So, a nice early night for the kids can give you just that little bit longer to relax by yourself, or with your partner, in the evenings. Now, what is so bad about that?

 

8 RELATIVES!

Do you have relatives that the kids could go and visit? Maybe for a morning or an afternoon, or, if you are really lucky, an overnight sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa! The kids will love it, you will love it and it gives your relatives time with the kids, unpressured, which might not happen the rest of the year!

 

9 Got a tent?

Have a sleepover in the garden! Did you ever do that as a child? Remember how exciting it was to sleep in your back garden in a tent?? You could have a little midnight feast, burin some marshmallows on the bbq or the kids might just be old enough to sleep in the tent alone. Whatever happens, there will be a buzz of activity in your house, and we know what releasing adrenaline produces, don’t we? Sleepy times!

 

♯10 Plan as a family

Finally, you are a family- so; if the kids are old enough, plan the holidays with them. Give them options- it doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Get them involved with running the house- baking kids (the cakes are their own rewards here!) doing the dishes or hanging out the washing. You can choose to give them pocket money for tasks, with a special visit to the sweet shop at the end of the week, or just teaching them that running a household means everyone needs to pitch in. The choice is yours- it is your family, after all!

Anyway, there are some ideas for dealing with the holidays. Yes, they’re not perfect and yes, they may not all suit you, but anything is worth a try, isn’t it? As you all know, your children are only young and wanting to hang out with you for a very small amount of time, and that time flies by even quicker. Making the most of the holidays can actually be really fun, it depends on which perspective you take!

Remember, you can always try some relaxation techniques, if the excitement gets too much!

It’s May Day- Time To Break The Rules!

I spent the whole day in London, UK today. As I was leaving, there were crowds and crowds of people; traffic was snarled up and it was getting noisy. I had totally forgotten that today was May Day, and, as per the usual tradition, demonstrations were going on in our capitol. The voices were so loud- everyone there seemed to be clear about one thing; what they wanted.

It made me wonder, are we always clear about what we want? I know we like to think that we are, but are we, really? When it comes down to it, don’t a lot of us honestly think that people are mind readers- if we have been upset by something, we expect people to guess at what has upset us! It is then difficult to have a conversation; if you think you know what the other person means or intended, when actually, you’ve got it quite wrong! Does this ever happen to you? Maybe you have noticed that other people do it to you? Are we really being clear about what we want, or are we just hoping that others guess?

Relationships can be difficult, even at the best of times! Our relationships with out friends, partners and family are all different. The way we communicate with these people may also be different! We have expectations of people, and ourselves, that sometimes, just really aren’t sensible! Do you think that anger is a negative emotion? Do you think that it’s best to hold your anger in?

Well, it may (or may not!) surprise you to know that, actually, anger can be a very cathartic emotion! By expressing our anger, we are communicating our displeasure and upset to others- no need for mind reading here! If we bottle up our anger, we can become resentful; we expect people to know why we are angry (there’s the mind reading again!) and we don’t necessarily give them a chance to communicate with us about what is wrong!

If we supress our anger, we are a bit like a bottle of pop (no advertising here!) that has been shaken and shaken- when we take off the lid, the pop is going to explode outwards! Does that sound familiar to any of you? By supressing your anger, it can lead to your emotions coming out in other ways- sometimes by verbal explosion, sometimes physical, but none of them particularly helpful! So, what to do? Well, when you first start to get angry, I would suggest that this is the point at which you should express your anger- don’t wait until it builds up and leads to resentment. Violence, physical or verbal abuse is never the answer to being angry- perhaps dealing with your anger before it gets to tipping point, could help you to control the other emotions that spill out, when your anger gets too much.

Sometimes, we bottle up our anger and emotions, because that is what we were taught to do- from an early age! As we are born and grow, we are constantly surrounded by rules- some of them are there for good reason (don’t cross the road on a red light, for example!), but some of them are rules we have kind of inherited along the way. Did your parents ever teach you that ‘if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? This is an example of what we term ‘Rules for Living’ and is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy concept- sometimes our rules for living are just too difficult to live by; sometimes we need to soften them, to make things easier.

If you have a rule of ‘I must always be liked’, well, that’s a difficult rule to adhere to! Not everyone in this world can like everybody else, so, when your rule is broken, and somebody doesn’t like you (for whatever reason!), how does it make you feel? Do you feel good about it? Or do you feel terrible, guilty, and anxious or any other number of emotions? This is a very rigid rule to hold dear- perhaps you learnt it from your parents, or from school, church, your friends, the newspaper or social media. Wherever you have learnt it from, it isn’t helping you to get what you want in life- happiness. So, what can we do about it?

There are a number of things we need to do;

  • What is your rule? In this example, I am going to use the rule that ‘I must always be on time’
  • Where did the rule come from? In this case, we will assume parents (sorry Mum and Dad!)
  • Is your rule realistic? Is it reasonable? Is it achievable? No- sometimes you can’t help but be late- for example traffic queues. So this means it is not achievable.
  • What are the negative consequences of this rule- how does it impact your life? It makes me stressed all the time- I am constantly rushing around to be on time everywhere!

The rule came from our parents, who would always tell us to be on time as it is incredibly rude to be late, and only naughty people are late. As we have lived with this rule through growing up, it is something that we hold dear to us- after all, Mum and Dad are always right, aren’t they? This rule was then enforced when you went to school- remember being late for a class? Getting detention because you weren’t on time? Then you go to work, and the rule is again reinforced- it is wrong to be late!

But the thing is, life isn’t always straightforward- you’re rushing to get out of the house to meet friends for a play-date and the baby tips their milk all over them; which means that you need to change their clothes, making you late! There was a traffic accident on the way to your interview. The train was delayed. These are things that are simply beyond your control- you cannot change these. So, as you can see- being on time, always, is not reasonable rules to have- complications arise and for reasons beyond our control, sometimes, we are late!

So, what are the negative consequences of holding on tight to this rule? Well, rushing around to be on time all the time- how stressful is that? When you are late, and there is nothing you can do- do you beat yourself up about it? Do you feel cross and angry that you were late? What other negative impacts does your rule have on you?

Now you’ve worked out that your rule for living actually are hindering your goal in life- to be happy- what can you do about them? Well, you can do what we call to ‘soften’ the rules- turn a rule into a guideline. Be kinder to yourself and accept that sometimes, you just cannot be on time. Softening your rule from ‘I must always be on time’ to ‘I will try to be on time, but sometimes, this will not happen and I am ok with that’.

I am not saying this is easy to do, and it does take practice, but by doing this, you can make stressful or unpleasant situations a little easier for yourself. By softening your rules, you are hopefully not going to get as angry, and that bottle of pop isn’t going to explode everywhere! It seems so simple to do, but the tricky part here, is actually recognising your rules and working out how they affect you! We cant expect others to change for us, or to have the same rules for living that we do, but by softening our rules, it makes living with them much easier.

So, what’s stopping you? What are your rules and how do you think they are stopping you from getting what you want? It might not be happiness you are after; perhaps it is just not expecting everyone you meet to be polite. By making little changes to our lifestyles, we are making massive changes to our lives, and, over time, hopefully making our relationships and the way we deal with problems, a little better and a little easier!

Laughter- the friendly medicine.

So, tonight is going to be a really quick blog post- I have been training all day and am shattered (remember back to a previous blog where I said it was ‘ok’ to give yourself a break? Well, this is it!). I will be writing about my training today in next week’s blog though- so look forward to a long in depth article then!

I was working this week with a new client- new client’s are always interesting, as you don’t know their story and it is a ‘process’ to develop a rapport with your client, into what we called the ‘working alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003). The Working Alliance is basically a term for the way in which we work with our clients- in order for you to tell me about yourself, we have to get on, you have to engage with me enough to feel comfortable enough to talk about issues that can be very challenging.

Now, notice how I didn’t say ‘we’ need to engage with each other? As a therapist, my work is all about engaging with you, as the client. I am ready from the moment you walk through that door- you could tell me the very worst thing in the world, and I will openly accept, listen and empathise with you. You don’t even have to know me. That is my job. As a therapist, I am a keen listener and what a therapist does do, is to afford you Unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1951)- that whatever you say to me, whatever your experience is, even though I many have never experienced it myself, I can listen to you without judgement. Accepting all that you tell me and actually caring about it, too.

As a therapist, I am ethically bound to be empathetic and congruent to you, as a client. What this means, is that I am open to what you say, and am listening- I can understand and imagine, or empathise with you about how that must feel and how difficult/challenging/funny/scary it is. After all, it is about being genuine and if I am not genuine with you and honest, how could you hope to gain anything from our meeting?

These are the core conditions of my training- I hope it is what makes me an understanding and empathetic therapist. But, sometimes, for some clients, this isn’t enough. They still experience difficulty in the therapy room and it can take some time to get to know each other well enough, for you to feel like you can open up to me. And you know what? That is fine. It is ok to take your time!

I was reading a study about how, after laughing, we are more inclined to open up and tell others personal details about ourselves (Gray, Parkinson and & Dunbar, 2015)- the study used groups of participants, who were each shown a different video, prior to writing down five pieces of personal information about themselves, which they were prepared to share with their companions. They were shown either a comedy clip, an uplifting but sobering clip or a neutral clip from an instructional golf video.

The only difference in their reactions was laughter. I remember doing a similar experiment during my Psychology degree, except we were measuring our heart rate. Laughing, for obvious reasons raised our heart rate. I remember thinking, well, how can this be linked to anything interestingly Psychological? But here it is- the laughter made that group of participants share more intimate details about themselves than the other clips.

So, I guess you will be wondering, what does that have to do with being in the therapy room and talking about yourself? Well, as therapists, we are only human, you know. We smile, we joke and we are guilty of laughing at the wrong thing, sometimes. So, perhaps, when sharing our information, a more light-hearted approach could be used? Maybe we should share a joke or two, before we start our sessions? I know that, the longer I see you for, the more we talk about, the more we exchange pleasantries and the more we will laugh or smile at the beginning, middle and end of a session. So, I guess, laughter does actually bring us closer together- it helps us to feel comfortable with the person we are with. I imagine, that laughter is a great leveller for all people.

It has been found that when we disclose information about ourselves, it increases liking of us in the other person, and increased liking increases the likelihood of laughter. Increased liking leads to further self-disclosure and before you know it, you are part of a disclosure liking cycle! (Collins and Milner, 1994) So you can see how talking about ourselves, liking and laughter all go together hand in hand.

Unfortunately there is also an opposite cycle where by fear of rejection in the face of disclosing prevents disclosure – leading to increased isolation, loneliness and depression. (Wei, Russell and Zakalik, 2005). The thing is, in therapy, I won’t reject you. I won’t laugh if it’s not funny and I won’t make you feel bad about a decision you regret.

So if you are feeling low, and someone invites you out somewhere, and you don’t really feel up to it, you need to ask yourself a question. Which cycle do you want to ride? The fun bike to town? Or the same one you have been riding in the rut you have been stuck in?

The flip side to this, I would assume, is when we are out and about socialising. Perhaps if we are giggling too much, we relax too much and allow ourselves to say things we didn’t mean to? Perhaps it isn’t just ‘all the alcohol talking’. The study described how laughing could be a ‘social lubricant’. By the very nature of therapy, this seems to go against the grain; after all, I am supposed to be empathic and congruent towards you. But, perhaps you would like to see me laugh or smile? Maybe that makes me more real to you? Whatever it is, and however we are in the therapy room, I am there for you and we can talk and develop a rapport; even if we don’t laugh!


 

 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Collins, N.L. and Milner, L.C. (1994) ‘Self Disclosure and liking; A Meta-analytic review’, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 457-475.

Gray, A., Parkinson, B. and & Dunbar, R. (2015) ‘Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure’, Human Nature, vol. 26, no. 1, March, pp. 28-43.

Rogers, C. (1951) Client Centered Therapy, London: Constable.

Wei, M., Russell, D. and Zakalik, R. (2005) ‘Adult Attachment, Social Self Efficacy, Self disclosure, Loneliness, and subsequent Depression for Freshman College Students; A Longditudinal Study’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 602-614.

 

 

 

Why didn’t you like my Selfie?

Social media is really on my mind this week- I have several online presences; both personally and professionally. I find it hard to maintain them, but in this day and age, when most of our interactions with our friends seem to come from social media, what choice do we have? If you have your own business, then you will know as well as I, that it is essential to have a presence in the online world. But, how is this impacting us in our lives, and what impact is it having for our children?

Bare with me on this, and you will see where I am coming from- there is a psychological platform that is commonly used to study the psychological implications of social interaction called the Ultimatum game. The Ultimatum game relies on two people, one of which is in charge of dividing ‘resources’ between themselves and the other person who is the recipient (these resources can be anything- sweets, money, pencils, but it is usually money).

The person, who is dividing the money, is free to divide the resources in any manner they wish; the recipient can then accept or reject the first person’s offer. If the offer is accepted, say for example a 50/50 split, and then each party gets 50% of the resources. If there is a 70/30 spilt, and it is agreed, then the split is 70% to the divider and 30% to the recipient. If the recipient rejects the offer, then both parties get nothing.

The brain processes involved in the Ultimatum game were analysed (the most cited study of this is (Wout et al., 2006) ) and the results found that ‘unfair’ offers (offers 30% or less), when made by a human partner were rejected at a significantly higher rate than offers made by a computer. Thus suggesting that the participants involved had a much stronger emotional reaction to unfair offers from humans, than they did to the same offers from a computer.

So, what does that actually mean, and what does it have to do with Social media, I hear you ask! Well, this study shows that interacting with humans takes much more emotional involvement, and by default, more cognitive effort (the effort involved in making our brains work) than interacting with a computer.

So, again, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with Social media? Well, this generally means that interaction with a computer is easier for us, as it requires less emotional involvement and cognitive energy than talking to a human- when we talk to humans, 55% of our communication is through body language, 38% through tone and speed of your voice, and only 7% is actually through what we say (Aron, 1997). So when we interact with people, we are constantly paying attention to what is being said, but also the body movements, gestures, the tone of voice, the words that are being said and eye contact that is, or is not, being made.

This enables us to see and hear how people are feeling when they are speaking to us- that is not available to us when we are ‘talking’ from behind our keyboards! This means, to speak online, we need to use a lot less effort than we do when we are face to face- it is easier to hide our emotions online than it is to hide them in a face to face conversation.

By utilising Social media, the user is able to project a personality, expression, opinion, and a persona if you will, that may not be the same as the person that they ‘actually’ are. We all say things out of anger, or hurt, sometimes, but when we say it to the person themselves, we see the effect and reaction we get from being cruel- you do not get that when you are behind a screen.

When we are talking to someone who is in a particular emotional state, we are primed to enter that state ourselves (Dimberg, Thunberg and Elmehed, 2000)- meaning that when we are talking to each other, if our friend is sad, we are likely to become sad ourselves. This is sadly lost when interacting via a computer. Social media is a virtual form of interaction- meaning that the interaction takes on some of the qualities of being real, but is not in fact ‘real’. Therefore, how do we know what we are being presented with is in actual fact, real?

What’s so bad about that, then? Well, for most people, using social media is a form of remaining in contact, whether because there is a distance involved or you just want to let people know how you are doing- ever noticed how most people only really post when good things happen? As adults, we can generally regulate our use of Social media much easier than young teenagers or pre-teens can. Most children have access to the Internet now, and in particular Social Media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Oovoo and other messaging platforms. Whilst they are happily posting away about how good there day was, how much they love their Bae, the ‘banter’ at school, or the fact that Zayn Malik has left One Direction (see, I really am ‘down’ with the kids!), these young people are posting their hearts and lives and loves out in the open, for all to see. It is amazing to me, how many young people’s online accounts are open access; enabling anyone to read them. Or the fact that parents do not seem to be checking what their children are posting to these platforms.

So, here in lies the problem- if a young person is posting on Social media that they are depressed, sad, excited or happy, how do we know that this is really happening? Haven’t you ever just sent a text saying ‘I’m good’ when in actual fact, you have a headache, feel poorly or tired, or are feeling a little depressed, stressed or anxious?

Social media can be a disingenuous way of communicating- the persona we are projecting may not be the persona we actually have, and so who is regulating this? As adults, we would like to the think that we would think twice before we posted something that could be, potentially, offensive. But, young people live in the moment, they speak from their heart and not necessarily their heads- if they are posting offensive comments, perhaps it is down to peer group pressure, and not the actual person they are; who actually does have a very different set of beliefs.

So, where do we go from here? Should parents check their childrens Social Media accounts? Do we need to teach, or remind, our children about self-regulation? We assume that schools are doing the job, but isn’t it also the caregivers responsibility? As shown by the Ultimatum game, we don’t respond to computers in the same way that we respond to people- although there is a person at the end of the Social media platform, perhaps it is easier to say things we don’t necessarily mean on a computer, and then have regrets after?

And what about us as adults? Who regulates us, when we are incapable of regulating ourselves? What we need to remember is that what we put out there on Social Media is there forever, even if we do delete it. Recipients or viewers can take screenshots and keep the information. Whatever you are preparing to say, be it to your audience, a friend or possible romantic interest, ask yourself these questions- would I say it to their faces, if I were stood in front of them? And if you would, how would it make them feel?

 


Aron, A. (1997) ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings’, Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 23, no. 4, April, pp. 363-377.

Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M. and Elmehed, K. (2000) ‘Unconcious Facial Reactions To Emotional Facial Expressions’, Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 1, January, pp. 86 – 89.

Wout, M.v.’., Kahn, R.́.S., Sanfey, A.G. and Aleman, A.́. (2006) ‘Affective state and decision-making in the Ultimatum Game’, Experimental Brain Research, vol. 169, Jan, pp. 564-568.

 

 

So, Tell Me About Your Mother?

Good old Freud- he paints an interesting picture for us modern day Psychologists. Classic Freud, the whole psychodynamic perspective gave us a really good grounding in Psychology and how we worked as people. Rene Descartes, the French Philosopher was one of the great minds who started all this off, back in the 1600’s, when he postulated, “I think, therefore, I am”. Yes, the Greek Philosophers Socrates, Aristotle and Plato were the fore fathers of Psychology, but Descartes statement really hit home. The idea that the brain and the body were connected (Hothersall, 2003).

Psychology has come a long way since then. Freud really brought Psychology in to the main stream; but his work has left a bitter taste in many a Psychologists mouth. There is no doubt that Freud was hugely influential in the grounding of modern Psychology; if you ask the lay person about Psychology, I guarantee Freud is the first name that comes up, along with sniggers of Oedipal Complexes and ‘Tell me about your father/mother’ statements.


 

So, where have we come since then? Does Therapy still ask about your mother and father? And if so, why is it still important?

There are many different models of Psychological theory. One of these, that I ascribe too and, after working with client for so long, see in working practice every day, is Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969). So, what is it and why is it important to me?

Attachment theory is the work of two Psychologists- John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, the work of who was published in 1991. Quite a modern theory, you may notice, but Bowlby had been working on his theory for decades before this. Bowlby theorised that the relationships and bonds between people, in particular our early caregiver (traditionally the Mother, but this could also be an Father, Aunt, Step-Mother/Father, Foster Parent etc.) are intrinsically important in our ability to form relationships, romantic or otherwise. Bowlby described his theory as the ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969). This was the result of decades of work, and has proven to be a very effective model.


 

So, what is it and why does it affect us?

Bowlby hypothesized that the main caregiver, who nourished, loved and cared for the child, created a bond with them, where the child learns that in times of fear or distress, the main caregiver provides comfort and reassurance. This is essential to the survival and wellbeing of human beings. By developing this bond and understanding, the child grows into a confident toddler, and therefore, a confident child, teenager and adult. The important aspect here is the bond between caregiver and child. It’s what gives the child confidence to explore the world- have you ever watched a toddler exploring a new place? They will go and look at toys, or crawl or wander over to another area, but a securely attached child will be able to do this, occasionally looking back to ensure that the caregiver is there, watching and waiting, should anything go wrong.

This is all part of normal, human development. By being responsive and available to the child’s needs, we are allowing them the space and security to be curious and investigate their surroundings. But what happens if this isn’t the case? And how might it affect me?


 

But why is my primary caregivers role so important?

In the 1950’s and 60’s an American Psychologist performed research on maternal deprivation, his name was Harry Harlow (Harlow, 1958). What Harlow did, was actually quite cruel, but gave a very good insight into the importance of the caregiver to an infant.

Harlow took newborn baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers, and put them in a cage to live. In the cages were two wire monkey mothers. One of the wire monkeys held a bottle from which the infant monkey could obtain nourishment, while the other wire monkey was covered in a soft terry cloth. What Harlow found was that the monkeys would feed from the wire monkey with the bottle, but they would spend the majority of their days with the soft terry cloth ‘mother’. In times of fear and discomfort, the baby monkeys would instinctively head to the soft cloth ‘mothers’ for comfort and support.

From this, Harlow ascertained that the role of the caregiver is not just to do with nourishment, but a large proportion of the importance stems from the love and affection we get from a soft, loving, comforting parent.

A child whose primary caregiver was absent, or perhaps not as attentive as a caregiver should be, will develop in a different way. Perhaps your caregiver had PND (Post-natal depression) and found it difficult to develop a bond with you. Maybe your primary caregiver died, or was busy at work to keep the home above your heads. Perhaps the primary caregiver was cruel and did not show the amount of love we would hope a caregiver would give a child. We can then see how it might be difficult for that child to form the bond needed to allow them the space to be curious and to explore the world. A child, whose caregiver responds in this way, may become avoidant or ambivalently attached- this means that as you grow, you may find it difficult to develop and maintain a relationship- after all, your experience of relationships has not been a positive one.


 

So why does attachment matter? And why is it so important?

Well, a secure attachment base with out caregiver helps to increase our self-esteem, which is a rather large part of us and how we function. People, who have a secure attachment, as babies tend to be more independent, higher confidence levels, perform better in school, are less likely to suffer from depression and have more successful social relationships.

Low self-esteem issues can make the smallest things in life seem incredibly difficult. Perhaps you don’t have the confidence to ask for a pay rise, or the confidence to apply for a job or ask a girl/boy out? Low self-esteem can affect us in many ways, and it can be really difficult to build up, especially if you have no template of what self-esteem and confidence is!

Attachment issues can really affect some people, and for others, they manage to form secure and healthy attachments with no problem- like anything to do with the human Psyche, it is a very personal and unique experience for each person! How we deal with it can change from situation to situation; perhaps your new boss at work reminds you of your mother and how your relationship wasn’t easy, which in turn makes you unable to stand up to your boss, which means more work is heaped upon you. Attachment issues can affect us in many ways, and perhaps it isn’t until we have spoken to someone about this, that we know that it is affecting us.

I am not espousing that Attachment is the root of all evil, but if you are on the receiving end of a negative attachment experience, it really isn’t a pleasant feeling and you can carry it with you, and the effects it has, throughout your life. The thing is, you may not even be aware of your attachment difficulties- after all, didn’t we all have a ‘normal’ upbringing? What I think is ‘normal’ is different to what everyone else things is normal, so how do we know that our primary attachments weren’t nourishing? Sometimes, it is only through therapy that we can make sense of our experiences, and, as I said, all of our experiences are different, and unique to us!


 

Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment. : Vol. 1. , New York: Basic Books.

Harlow, H. (1958) ‘The Nature of Love’, American Psychologist, vol. 13, pp. 673-685.

Hothersall, D. (2003) History of Psychology, 4th edition, New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

 

 

I’ve tried Therapy and didn’t like it- What Can I do?

Whilst working towards my Doctorate in Counselling Psychologist, part of my on-going professional development, and indeed my training, is to attend therapy myself. Why, you may ask? It is really important for me to know what it feels like to be on the other end of the seat in the therapy room!

My experience is probably a little less stressful than the average client- after all, I know what is about to happen; but that doesn’t mean it is any less nerve-wracking! Knowing that you are going to bare your soul to a stranger is a very interesting experience- it taps into our primordial experiences of trying to protect ourselves. Opening up to someone puts us in a delicate position- someone else knows our inner most secrets, and, for that to happen, we have to truly trust that person!

This is why therapy often takes a long time- it would be lovely to give a client a timescale. “I promise that within 12 weeks you will be all healed and never need therapy again!” If I could do this, I am sure I would be so busy; I wouldn’t have time for myself!

The thing is, it takes time to get to know and trust your Therapist- we’re meeting someone new for the first time, and we know nothing about him or her. That puts them in the balance of power, and it can be an uncomfortable experience to start with. Just like making new friends, it takes time to get to know people, but when we do, we can then work together in the therapeutic relationship, for a great outcome. Petruska Clarkson defines this experience as the ‘Working Alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003), and it is fundamental to a good therapeutic relationship.

Just as in life, we cannot like everyone we meet, so this is true in therapy- you just might not ‘click’ with your Therapist! This is OK! It does not mean that therapy will not work for you; it just means that you may need to find someone else that you can work with. Any good Therapist will be able to recommend another Therapist for you- so please, do not feel like you cannot ask for a referral; a good Therapist will gladly help you.

Likewise, if during the first session, the assessment, the Therapist does not feel that they are the right Therapist for you, you may be referred to a colleague. This does not mean that the Therapist isn’t competent, just that they recognise that a colleague of theirs has more experience in the area you are seeking help in, and that the Therapist is actually looking out for your welfare!

So, your first session has gone well and you think you can work with your Therapist- but it is still uncomfortable to talk to them. Why is that? Well, that’s perfectly normal! It can take weeks to develop the relationship enough to trust your Therapist and let them in. This is normal and it takes time. In long term psychotherapy, this can take months, however, from the moment you first meet your Therapist, they will be working hard to develop your working relationship together (Safran, Muran and Proskurov, 2009).

The thing is, a skilled Therapist is working hard from the beginning- the work starts the moment the assessment ends, and real changes can be made in the early weeks of therapy, regardless of the working alliance you and your Therapist have created. So, as you can see, its not all cut and dried- each therapeutic experience is different, and what I would say, is that if there is something in life that is getting you down, or getting to be too much; give therapy a go. You never know, it might help you to make the changes you never thought were possible; after all, why do you think Therapist’s go into the profession? It’s usually because we have experienced Therapy, and found it helpful!


 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Safran, J.D., Muran, J.C. and Proskurov, B. (2009) ‘Alliance, negotiation, and rupture resolution’, in Ablon, R.L.a.S.J. Handbook of Evidence Based Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, New York: Humana Press.