We all look at the world in a different way. Even twins who might have shared much of the same kind of upbringing and experiences of being parented by the same people can have differing views of the world and their respective places within it.
We all experience the happenings of our days in our own way and interpret those experiences according to how our minds make sense of them. We all have core beliefs - these are the beliefs which we hold deep within ourselves and they influence how we interpret the things that happen to us, the world around us and others' actions and behaviours.
Think of those beliefs as a collection of Instagram filters (other social media platforms are available!). They shape the way that we see the same thing. The same experience can seem vastly different depending on which one we apply. The difference with social media, of course, is that we can see these filters lined up against each other, and we consciously choose the one which meets our needs. If we want an old-fashioned looking image we might choose a sepia tone. If we want a professional photo for our workplace we might choose a flattering but neutral filter.
When we come to apply our own psychological filters to our lives and experiences we don't have as much autonomy over which one we use - the core belief through which we interpret it.
Take for example joining an evening language class as an adult. One of our new fellow students asks us to go for a cup of coffee before the next lesson. Depending on our core belief we interpret this invitation in different ways.
Core belief: I am a worthy person, I have worth.
Consequence: I might enjoy getting to know this person. I'll agree to go for coffee.
Core belief: I am a worthless person, I have no worth.
Consequence: They might realise how boring and pathetic I am, I can't risk it. I won't take up the offer.
It's unfortunately very common to have some negative core beliefs about ourselves. We have usually picked them up along the way in the course of our lives from people who have had a negative influence on us:
- That might be a very critical, unloving parent who always brought up our weight as a negative and only praised us when we were successful at dieting.
- Or perhaps it is a sibling whom we fought with as a child, and they repeatedly reminded us that we had a big nose or were funny looking.
- It might have been a teacher who undermined our intelligence and confidence by laughing at us for asking a question at school.
- Or a boss who treated us as though it was just a matter of time before we would make a mistake and wouldn't allow us any responsibility.
These are the things that we can experience just once (though often many times), feel hurt by them, and then pick those beliefs up and take with us as we move through life - sometimes for our entire lifetime.
Do you identify with any of these negative core beliefs?
- I'm not interesting
- I'm stupid
- I don't deserve to be happy
- I'm a bad person
- I'm ugly
We can confront these beliefs in therapy - we can challenge whether they are true, or whether we have taken on the harsh words that someone once used to hurt us. By breaking down these negative core beliefs we can begin to open ourselves up to a more caring and compassionate way of being and thinking.
- Instead of believing "I'm ugly" we can challenge whether that is really true, or whether we just don't look how an ex-partner wanted us to.
- Instead of believing "I'm a bad person" we can identify instances of acts of kindness that we have carried out for others and expected nothing in return.
You could start to see yoursef in a slightly different light - often the light that I as your therapist see you in when you come to a session. An open, supportive, accepting way of thinking that doesn't punish you for not living up to other people's standards.
If you're looking to work on self-esteem or self-worth in counselling then this could be a great place for us to start. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange your free 10-minute phone consultation - or use my contact form on www.harleycounselling.com/contact.
...but that doesn't mean that you can't make a decision.
Sometimes I'll meet a client who needs to make a big decision. A decision that will affect their lives and those of their loved ones to an enormous degree.
They will usually contact me with a fairly vague reason for wanting therapy. They will mention that they are in crisis and that they've realised that they could benefit from talking to someone. Specifically me.
This is a great honour. I am flattered that someone who doesn't know me - possibly has never met me - might consider me someone that they might solicit advice from.
But the problem is, that's not what I do. Or rather, it's not as simple as that.
When I'm working with someone and I'm made aware that they are living with a situation or set of circumstances that they have decided needs to change - or perhaps they need to give someone an answer to a question which might make them uncomfortable - then I observe it and revere it like any other outsider. I am connected with my client - I feel empathy for them, I want only the best for them. But I cannot make a decision for them.
Only through thorough exploration of feelings, thoughts, opportunities, wishes, hopes and fears can that decision be made - and I don't have access to all of that information at any one time. But you do, the client does. They have all of the different pieces of data that will enable them to make that decision, and my job is to help them to access it; to facilitate the teasing out of the relevant thought processes and feelings in a calm and methodical way.
That's my gift to the process - detachment. Impartiality. Otherness. Ironic isn't it when so many turn to therapy for a connection.
It's the separation that gives us the space between us to lay out the puzzle pieces of a life, and begin to put them together again. So if you have an issue upon which you cannot make a decision, where you're feeling stuck and can't make progress - then perhaps it's time to talk to a stranger. Someone who doesn't know your friends or family, who is bound by an ethical framework to provide confidentiality, who doesn't have an agenda when it comes to which path you decide to take.
Perhaps it's time to bring that decision to therapy, and ask not for advice - but for space to work out what your next steps will be and to feel supported and enabled in doing so.
That's what I do in this type of dilemma. It is as simple, and complicated, as that.
Maybe you only need one or two sessions to come to a decision. That's fine. Don't let your ability to resolve a situation swiftly be a barrier to support. Don't let it be a barrier to you moving on with your life, ending an unhappy relationship, deciding what to do with your career, whether or not to marry someone, whether to have a child or not, whether to move to another country. These questions are huge and deserve the reverence of our self-reflection, even if only for a short time.
You can contact me at email@example.com or book in for your free 10-minute telephone consultation at www.harleycounselling.com/bookonline.
I look forward to working with you.
It's Saturday! At last.
Hopefully, some of you will find yourselves in the fortunate position of having nothing to do today. So if you're stuck for something to help pass the time while you wait for your breakfast to cook or coffee to brew, here are my top three reads for this weekend:
1. Counselling Directory's blog on "What to say to someone going through IVF"
An increasingly prevalent topic in our society as more of us turn to medical science to aid conception. Some suggestions for how to support those going through the difficult process.
2. Guardian article "I am learning to drive in London, the Mordor of motoring" by Coco Khan @cocobyname.
An insight into one woman's anxiety vs the reality of learning to drive in London - the anxiety and fear that can come from learning to drive is not to be underestimated, and her honest account of learning a new skill as an adult is really refreshing.
3. Youtube video of the beginning of Mike Monteiro's "Fuck you. Pay me." speech at the March 2011 San Francisco, CreativeMornings event.
Working freelance in creative industries can be hard enough, but not getting paid for the work that's been done is harder. The start of his motivational speech for creatives could be just the thing to start off your Saturday.
Hoping that you all have a lovely weekend,
I remember being a student (just about). Everyone who wasn't one seemed to be of the opinion that it was easy and that students have a lazy, layabout life. That they get up at noon and would drink anything and everything they could get their hands on. Of course some of that is true, but it also misses out a huge chunk of what life is really like for a person in higher education. The responsibilities and demands of that period can be stressful for many reasons:
Too little of it usually. Student loans might cover course fees and some day-to-day bills such as rent, but generally not the more mundane cost of living like food or travel (unless the student in question is a master budgeter, and I didn't meet many of those in my time at university). So the individual - who might be away from their parents' home for the first time - needs to earn money. They might look for a part-time job but find that the only ones available are menial and poorly remunerated due to the limited hours that they can commit to. Or worse, zero hours contracts with no secure income. The balancing act of work, study, social life and good mental health is a tricky one. If this affects you, you can find tips on the NUS website here.
Speaking of social life - this is where we are told it's at its peak. That we will never have times like these again and that we are lucky for how few responsibilities we have. We meet a diverse range of people and our minds are opened to the different personalities and circumstances which we come across. But now there is social media, and we see our friends at different, far away universities - it looks like they have a great group of friends who are all much cooler and more fun than we are. They're better looking, take better selfies and have newer clothes. What are we doing home alone on a Saturday night? Are we missing out?
Let's not forget the reason most people go into higher education - to learn. To study and grow - to grow up and to fill their heads with information and wisdom that will serve them in their life as an adult. Information and experience that will help them to build great careers. Essays, dissertations, projects, lectures and seminars take up time, energy, planning and brainpower. The ability to not only hear, but listen and digest information when there are so many distractions and things to do, people to meet, gigs to go to. It can be hard to balance them all.
Family & Friends
We are away from our families - sometimes for the first time. We might move in with people who begin as strangers, but soon become the people that we rely on to meet our needs. We might form romantic relationships quickly and with the wrong type of person. We might fall out with housemates or coursemates, or dislike our lecturers because they remind us of someone who once hurt us. We are learning how to relate to other people outside of the safety of our homes and the people whom we grew up near. And learning often requires failure to truly absorb teachings of the lesson. Unfortunately, sometimes that might take the form of building up rent arrears and being evicted from the place that we live because we haven't been taught how to run a home beyond cleaning our own bedroom.
Fears for the future
These are uncertain times economically. The cost to study at university is now bigger than ever - but job opportunities don't seem to have expanded at the same rate and how do we write a CV anyway? 50% of young people fear the number of job opportunities for their generation will decline in the next three years, a survey by the Princes Trust suggests.
And these are just a few of the issues that students face. That doesn't sound lazy and layabout to me. It sounds complex and demanding. Nuanced and pressurised. No wonder university counselling services are so oversubscribed. That individuals with so many things to consider along with the pressure of achieving a good degree result might need to talk to someone about their anxieties and fears.
This is a place where counselling can make a huge difference, where talking therapy early on in a person's life when they are working out how to deal with responsibilities and worries can set them up for maintaining good mental health and resilience which they then carry into their workplace and families. My student clients might talk about how they want to manage their stress going forward, what techniques they might use to manage their time or procrastination - or work on issues that so often arise in youth like disordered eating, obsessive thoughts or dealing with that fist devastating heartbreak.
If talking to someone about any of these issues might help you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book in via my online booking system for a free 10-minute phone consultation at www.harleycounselling.com/bookonline.
Hopefully most of you will be heading towards finishing work for the week by now - and if you're stuck for something to help pass the time on your way home here are my top three Friday reads for your journey home:
1. Charter Harley Street's Mandy Saligari in her Youtube video "Working Mums" - a brief 5 minute video on the many hats that working people wear and how to cope with the needs of children when arriving home from a long day at work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmu_ghJ2rEE
2. Guardian article "How can a therapist get the most out of therapy" by Susie Orbach. An insight into what might be going on for your therapist in the session. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/14/how-can-a-therapist-get-the-most-out-of-therapy
3. Huffpost article by Paula Bellostas Muguerza with practical advice and tips on how to avoid burnout and keep ourselves well. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/from-burnout-to-balance_uk_5a252ec2e4b04dacbc9bd8da
Have a great weekend,
Or should the question be: is the marriage worth saving?What a question.
One that I'm asked frequently and that - like anyone - I have lots of my own personal feelings and thoughts about - as well as my professional ones. But lets focus on the latter.
When I'm working with my clients on a one-to-one basis in my Bristol office, we generally talk about relationships of many kinds. Most often we talk about our relationships with a significant other or others (remembering that not everyone is in a monogamous relationship, and may have a different configuration for how they expend their romantic energy). Sometimes we talk about who they are in the relationship in question, who their partner is and what they mean to them. Whether they consider their relational needs to be met. Chances are, if they've brought up the subject, they're not.
So what can a person do in counselling to save a marriage?
My view is not so much the lengths to which a person should go in order to save a marriage - but rather I would ask them to pose some of the following questions to themself:
You might be wondering where the question about love is. Why I haven't asked whether they are in love with, or have love for the other person? And my view on that might not be what you might expect:
It's not about love.
That's not to say that loving someone isn't an important and fulfilling feeling - and many of us are lucky enough to know what it feels like to have been loved at some point in our lives. But if a person is making a decision upon whether or not a relationship is supportive, safe, a good place to be - then love alone will not be enough to be the deciding factor in whether or not that relationship is successful.
We can love people who are bad for us, just as we can love those who are good to us. We can love those who hurt us, who abuse us even. We can love those who are kind to us, and generous. You see, love is not a good barometer for judgement of worth. We have to be more pragmatic if a positive and healthy life with a significant other (or others) is what we seek.
Love is dangerous, love is wonderful, love is addictive - but love is not trustworthy.
So when someone comes to me and asks me to help them to save their marriage - we begin by analysing whether or not the relationship is one which warrants saving. One which is good for them. One which is worthy of their presence.
If you're in a place where you're working on these decisions then I would urge you to look at those questions above, to be brutally honest with yourself and be sure that the reasons for staying in a relationship are the right ones. After all - you are the prize that someone who meets your needs gets to keep. Lets not forget how valuable we are "just because" of love.
If you would like to work on relationship difficulties or decisions I work one-to-one with individuals in my Bristol office - you can book a free 10 minute telephone consultation here at www.harleycounselling.com/bookonline or email me at email@example.com to discuss further.
The 15th January has the dubious honour of being known as "Blue Monday" - the third Monday after Christmas is purportedly the date that even fewer of us get out of bed on the right side - often because we are feeling low after the passing of the festive period, the grey and uninspiring weather and that any credit card bills which have been run up in our efforts to treat our friends and family have now become due.
On top of that - many of us wake up on Mondays with dread knowing that we have to be at a place that we loathe in a few hours time. Sometimes stiffening at our desk when the boss comes into the office. In extreme cases we can have a feeling of anxiety that builds from Sunday afternoon knowing that we will have to face another week in an place that doesn't make us feel valued or utilise our potential.
If that description resonates with you, then you're not alone.
Work related anxiety and depression are an epidemic of our time. In fact - its been reported this week that working more than 39 hours per week could be detrimental to our health leaving employees burned out, struggling to find the energy or resources to engage with their friends and family. To be too tired to spend time with children or attend significant events like weddings and birthday parties.
Couple that with some corporations being reported for having a toxic presenteeism culture - in 2017 Moritz Erhardt was found dead in the shower of his east London home after working 72 hours non-stop for a large banking corporation (the inquest found that he had died of an epileptic fit however the intensity of his work patterns and fatigue were not ruled out as a cause of death by the coroner). And who among us has not felt the pressure to stay at their post later into the evening than the colleague sat next to them - not for love of the job, but to ensure that they are seen to be "serious" about their career.
Even more upsetting - this unhappiness has the propensity to leak into our personal lives. We spend more time at our place of work than anywhere else, and so it makes sense that I would meet many clients who arrive at my office incredibly stressed by their work - who are sometimes unable to manage the boundaries of those feelings and they find themselves taking out their resentment and stress on their loved ones.
A person's inclination and ability to manage personal and professional boundaries is one of the first things that I look for when initially meeting a client. Another of the areas which I specialise in in addition to more obvious addictive behaviours is codependency - and one of the main issues arising from codependency is an inability to instill boundaries and separate the self from others. If our self esteem is wrapped up in other people's view of us, our ability to perform well at work, get promoted and be perceived to be a "good" employee, then this can also leave us feeling trapped. If our family expect us to earn, provide and be reliable - then swaying from the routine of the 9-5 (and the rest) could be a danger to maintaining the status quo.
It can be helpful to talk about this in therapy - about the vulnerabilities that our workplace and work-life bring to the surface for us. And to look into why that might be the case. Is there a manager within the hierarchy of our workplace who reminds us of an abusive family member or estranged friend? Is there an atmosphere of belittling, sexism or racism? Is our self esteem damaged by impossible expectations? Can we be even a shade of our true selves when we slip into our work uniform?
If you are interested in talking further around any of these issues please feel free to get in touch with me via my contact form at www.harleycounselling.com - or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 10 minute telephone consultation.
How to cope with difficult circumstances & how therapy might help
By now we have all celebrated not only Christmas and the festivities that go along with that, but also New Year which is a societally acknowledged line-in-the-sand for many cultures to recognise the passing of the year - to review our achievements and mistakes, things we might do differently - and any progress which we have made toward personal goals.
For most of us - at some point in our lives - this will also mean acknowledging the death of a loved one, be they a friend, colleague, family member or partner. Someone who touched our lives in some way (not always positively) and we observe how life is without them. Knowing that they will not see this year that we find ourselves in, and how we can move on doing justice to their memory.
For those who grieve for an individual who has had a positive impact on their life - for example a helpful parent, a faithful old friend, a pleasant work colleague who we might have spent years sitting next to in our office sharing our days - whomsoever they were, there is a sadness to their loss. We grieve not only for them as an individual, but for the plans which we might have had with them - or for the plans that they held for themselves.
I worked with a client recently who was working through the death of a family member who had their life cut short by tragic circumstances. The client had a busy life at the time of the tragedy with their own children and a partner who was very ill - they didn't have time day-to-day to grieve the loss of that person who had meant so much to them. And so they arrived at therapy twenty years later with a sense of unease and sadness in their life generally that they could not put a finger on. It took a short while for the client to tap into the source of their longstanding grief. And while we might be reticent to open up a wound that seems healed - it was necessary for this person to look into the box of memories that they held for this person, and to fully grieve the loss that they had suffered - before they could move on in their life.
I suspect this is a common thread for many of us.
But what if the person who has died was not such a benevolent influence on our lives? Worse - what if they did us harm? What if we hated them and - we may even be ashamed to say - we are glad they have died? The important thing to observe here that death is not the cloth with which the deceased gets to wipe the slate clean and be exonerated of any mistakes or harm that they might have inflicted on another. To feel relief at the end of engaging with someone who made us unhappy or feel bad about ourselves is a common feeling. It's a human feeling. And one that I don't believe we should be ashamed of. In this case - talking about the reasons why we feel such relief in the absence of a negative relationship can work to ease any shame or guilt that we might feel by holding these feelings. It's something that comes up in therapy a lot - where we can say the very thing that we fear might be too shameful for even our closest friend. To say "I'm glad that my mother is dead, she treated me terribly and I have never recovered from the abuse that I received from her all my life" is a sentence of such weight and importance that it might seem shocking to those who cannot empathise. But in therapy, these "taboo" feelings and how we process them are the very making of the work. And we should not underestimate the power of words when spoken aloud vs how they manifest in the secret space of our heads. That's part of the alchemy of counselling and talking therapy.
Grief is often terribly sad, perhaps even tragic. Sometimes it's a relief to those around the person who has died - or perhaps the person was suffering terribly with an illness and it feels like a kindness for them to be unburdened of it. Whatever way we process it, it is almost always complex and conflicting.
To end - one of the wisest, loveliest things I have ever read about death is as follows:
"Sadness is the price which we all must pay for love."
I do hope that if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one at the beginning of 2018, that this might be of some comfort to you.
If you decide that you need to work through your grief - whichever of the above circumstances you might identify with - I can be reached at email@example.com or via the contact form on my homepage here.
Laura is an online talking therapist and writer specialising in working with millennials and the LGBTQI+ community.