Feel Good

Words we hear as children:  “You should be ashamed of yourself!”. “I hope you feel sorry”.  We are scolded and punished to make us behave.  I’m sure each of us has memories that we feel good about when we recall them,  and others we feel bad about.  In fact,  because we have been made to behave as children,  we respond to the programming very easily as adults.  This leads us to be available to suggestion,  and our emotions are too easily manipulated.  Stemming from this are accusations of how someone made you feel terrible,  and so on.  Well, it must be Xmas,  because I have your present here,  and it is this.

Nobody can make you feel bad.

Nobody can make you feel good.

You can’t make anybody feel bad.

You can’t make anybody feel good.

Our feelings are our own.

When we were young,  we were guilted into having our feelings do puppy tricks.  Feel good.  Feel bad.  Roll over and play dead.  We responded because we were anxious to please.  Its like a big behavioural experiment,  but it’s a lie.  As adults,  knowing how the magic trick was done makes the magic go away.  If someone wants us to feel bad,  we don’t have to roll over and feel it.  We can feel what we want to,  it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Much of the conditioning that creates these automatic involuntary responses is guilt.

Is guilt a good thing?  I believe it is greatly misunderstood.  For many,  the application of guilt is the same as the application of a wheel clamp.  It immobilises,  When guilt strikes,  nothing functions and nothing beyond tears,  hand wringing and wallowing is produced – a misapplication of a function.  Guilt should do no more than inform us of our mistake with only enough impact for us to learn before moving on.  The heavy handed application of what we “should”  feel burdens us beyond the point of usefulness.

Ego States

Ego States

The diagram is the basic ego state pattern for each of us. We develop the upper and the lower  ( P & C)  ego states as children.  P is the Parent Ego state,  and C is the Child ego state.  Children are very good at being children,  and they very quickly learn about the Parent ego state also.  We often see children imitate parents,  wagging fingers at the child when playing mothers and fathers.  The Adult ego state  (A)  develops later and is the more mature ego state.  Parental ego states produce words such as should,  must,  ought.  Words that cannot legitimately be used from the Adult ego state.  Communications from our parent ego state invoke either parental responses from outgoing & argumentative recipients,  or child responses from introvert recipients.

If you find that someone continually browbeats and shouts at you,  try speaking quietly and evenly,  and likely they’ll become self conscious about their tone,  moderating it until they join you in adult state.  Guilt is invoked from parent state to our child state,  the most introverted of us feeling the weight of it the most.  I endeavour to remain constantly in adult ego state in dealing with people,  even children,  as it invariably gains the respect of those I talk to and invites them to stay in adult state with me,  where the better conversations are.

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Self-Actualisation

400px-maslows_hierarchy_of_needssvgIn 1943 in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation,  Abraham Maslow designed what he called his pyramid of needs.  We see by the diagram the basic human needs – breathing,  food,  water,  sex,  sleep,  homeostasis and excretion – on the lower part of the pyramid,  denoting that these are minimal survival needs.  When someone has secured these needs,  they rise in the pyramid to the next level needs.

The securities bring us above animal survival into an area of needing security and establishing it.  We may at times lose health,  family,  employment etc,  but we may also regain it.  In Western culture,  many people would have a preoccupation in these matters.  Those who have established these securities in the main may feel that their concerns in everyday life reflect the middle section of the pyramid focussing on building friendships, family & sexual intimacy with a degree of maturity and permanence.  Again,  common in Western Society,  and often devastating when lost.  The Esteem level has a more rarified atmosphere.  The population who have so established the first three levels that they are attaining to the fourth are relatively few,  and the self actualisation level is the most difficult of all to reach.

Take into account that there can be variations of establishment on the lower levels.  Third level family,  for example,  does not denote that someone cannot rise to the fourth level until they have a solid relationship based on trust,  well-behaved children,  and a problem free familial relationship through three or more generations.  Instead it may denote someone who experiences family problems that they handle with confidence,  or even someone for whom other family members are no longer in their lives,  yet they have come to terms with and accepted this.  Self actualisation is rare.  We may well have a creative streak,  but can we command it?  We may be spontaneous at times,  but are we most usually rooted in routine behaviour.  Self-actualisation is the pinnacle of the self aware.  We cannot enter the domain of self-actualisation proper until the other four are conquered,  but we can have an understanding of the self actualised life.  Acceptance of facts,  for example is self knowledge – the banishment of self deceit and conceit!  There is no prevarication at this level,  the facts are bold,  the statements confident.  Those who aspire to it can learn the language of self-actualisation,  which is in itself empowering.  These are “I” statements by people who no longer say “you” when they mean “me”.  I frequently hear people make statements such as “you really don’t need this in life” when they mean “I really don’t need this in my life”.  We deflect feelings by deflecting the personal pronoun,  but to use “I” in every case it is meant brings us closer to our feelings and opens reality to use – we are creating self-actualising conditions.  It seems so odd that we shy away from involvement and avoid “I feel”,  “I will”,  “I am”  substituting “you feel” or “one feels”.  If we own our feelings,  we accept reality,  and only by accepting reality can we tackle it honestly.

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Under no circumstances

Back in the Nineties I worked at a place called the Mental Health Resource Centre  (Now renamed Oxford Mental Health Matters).  Their purpose was to educate & raise awareness of Mental Health issues,  to compile a database of local & national organisations & services so they could co-ordinate mental health users with services,  and to provide advocacy for those who need it,  primarily persons sectioned in Mental Health Hospitals,  particularly as those under section lose the rights ordinary members of the public have.

I found it a very useful grounding in the law regarding sectioning,  and discovered some of the inadequacies of services to some areas of need.  One of those areas was Anger Management.  Of course,  Probation provided Anger Management for people who had been convicted of offences due to their anger,  but where could people go who knew they had an anger problem,  and wanted to prevent the worst happening,  leading to a possible conviction.

I checked various Counsellors and Psychotherapists throughout Oxford & London,  and found nothing.  I therefore resolved to fill the gaps,  to add whatever areas lacking in services provided to my specialisations and the general counselling & psychotherapy that I provided.  I was particularly surprised at the lack of Anger Management,  considering that my Diploma had covered the subject,  so I knew others were qualified to deal with it.  Perhaps they were opting for an easier life and doubted their ability to keep control within their ground rules.  Whatever the reason,  it wasn’t on offer elsewhere,  and to a point I could understand it.

In my training I had heard the story of the Mental Hospital in which a patient had kicked off with every therapist he had shared sessions with – throwing chairs to break windows,  and generally creating a great amount of mayhem.  The behaviour continued until a new therapist witnessed a recording of one such outburst.  Therapists seemed eager to use the phrase  “This is your space,  I want you to be comfortable here and express yourself “ (or variations of the same),  effectively providing permission to destroy the fixtures and fittings.  The new therapist began by not allowing this,  and used a phrase I use often.  “Its okay for you to feel angry,  but its not okay to act the anger out,  we are here to talk it through.”

For awhile I worked with a teacher of troubled youngsters who often acted up and among the strategies we explored,  we looked at how this begins with child behaviour.  Nobody tells children that  sometimes they will feel angry,  and its okay to feel angry,  but to vocalise it rather than to demonstrate it.  He used various strategies such as giving attention before its demanded,  and providing a means of oral expression for anger that legitimised it.  Before long he had the most troubled kids being helpful assistants,  gave everyone a voice,  and provided access for each child to be able to talk matters through with him.  Within a term he had a well behaved class – though when the same kids had to interact in other classes with other teachers,  they did not feel as respected and reverted very quickly to previous behaviour.  He had succeeded however in proving the point,  that we are not taught as children that its okay to be angry,  and that anger can be controlled – so we grow up feeling that our basic anger is in itself bad behaviour,  and that our feelings are not within our control.  This was something I had proven in my own life and also taught others.

I often hear people say that they are okay under the circumstances,  but I decided that the circumstances were not going to control the way I felt.  Since that decision,  I have not let my feelings control my decisions.  I can feel angry,  I use that anger constructively rather than destructively.  Something can leave me feeling sad,  I acknowledge the sadness and put it aside to do what I must do.  I am far from unemotional,  and I need an outlet for my emotions,  but I put them aside until I can safely exercise them.

In training I learned to put my stuff out of the room.  We would visualise taking how we feel today and all our concerns – putting them in a bag,  and putting them outside of the door until we have finished working.  Ladies and gents,  I’m here to tell you it works.  I could sit for hours,  working with one person after another,  hearing the details of their fears and disasters and life destroying experiences while being there 100% for the clients involved.  My own buttons are not pressed,  my mind does not wander.  I am in control with my multi-tasking brain thinking strategies while being empathic and not folding under the clients,  or my own weight of concerns.  Then after, watch a soap in the evening  (note: Brit soaps do not resemble US soaps)  and cry my eyes out at the silliest thing,  and feel cleansed by it.  I feel revitalised by the work done rather than tired,  and all concerns emotionally are gone,  enabling me to put my energy into doing what I must without impairment.  All of my clients over the years find me ready to work & without moodiness every single time.

That’s why they call it a profession,  because the philosophy in action creates professionalism.

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The Power of the Now

Gestalt can be a difficult,   though very rewarding therapy style, it is often misunderstood and the root cause is in the name.  Gestalt is a German word that has no English equivalent.  It refers to  “Wholeness”  and being in the  “now”,  and even gave rise to a style of speech called  “Precept language”.  In Precept,  you wouldn’t say  “I hurt my arm”  because the implication is that you own the arm but it isn’t part of you,  it denies emotional involvement in the whole self.  In precept language you would instead say  “ I hurt me in me arm”  demonstrating that the arm is a part of you,  it hurts and therefore you are hurt”.

Its an interesting language,  though it gets very involved,  and much like Esperanto,  communicates little to a non speaker.  The sense of  “Now”  however,  is extremely powerful.  Most people use at least a third of their energy with the past – dragging burdens behind them,  feeling guilt,  wondering what if,  while doubting and regretting.  The same people spend at least a third of their energy with the future.  Worrying,  anticipating,  dreading,  pushing that weight ahead of them.  If we could see the past as reference – we learned,  it is gone.  If we ceased to be so concerned about the future,  stopped worrying & lived for today – we save two thirds of our energy to use now – and now is the only time we can change anything in life.  The past led us here,  let it go – the future is for reference,  let it come,  we become more effective and able now.  Most fear of the future is,  in any case,  based on past experience that we have not let go of.

When I was four years old I had my first trip to a dentist.  I had been born with numerous difficulties,  one of which was a calcium deficiency that left my first teeth lacking in calcium,  they turned black very quickly.  Because of this,  they had to be painted to protect them from early decay,  and there at the age of four I was being taken to have one extracted.  Coming out of the dentist I apparently cried excessively,  leading my Father to be annoyed and angry with me,  and when finally my parents checked,  they discovered that nine teeth had been extracted – not just the one.  For years I was fearful of dental visits,  and when my new teeth came through,  they were not straight because the lack of teeth had shrunk my gums.  I hated wearing a brace,  and the dentist who inflicted it on me,  and it was only in the 90s when I finally met a dentist I could feel a trust of.  I had ceased to be a case and started to be a person.  This dentist treated me well and became a friend to some extent.  He retired about ten years ago,  and though I have not found anyone of his calibre,  through him I lost my fear.  The now had defeated the past.

Imagine spending an hour with a therapist who will keep you in the now.  You may not speak of the past,  if you do the therapist asks you to let go of it and feel the now instead.  You many not speak of your future fears for the same reason.  If you can,  experiment – spend just half an hour talking about your feelings now,  with someone who will hold you in the now.  You’ll be surprised how much fear you can let go of.

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Love and self acceptance

There is a Zen question which asks:  Who is the God who makes the grass green?

We live in a lonely world,  one in which we are accustomed to make many assumptions to survive.  Years ago I heard the  (unconfirmed)  story of one of France’s many King Louises who held the theory that because we speak the languages that we hear,  we actually lose the ability to speak a birthright language of the angels.  In order to demonstrate his theory,  he took three newborn children away from their Mothers to be raised in the Palace.  Each had their own room and lived in luxurious surroundings.  All three were attended by silent wetnurses who fed them without uttering a word,  and the King waited for them to be old enough to begin speaking the language of the angels.  The children were warm and comfortable & well fed & all their physical needs cared for.  They died without ever uttering a word.

The thing they lacked was love.  Love is not food or warmth or shelter,  It would not appear to be an essential for survival,  it doesn’t appear as a basic need on Maslow’s Pyramid of needs,  however we cannot thrive without it.  But what is it?

I have no idea how my notebook feels,  or how the trolley it currently sits on feels,  or how my chair feels,  I only know how I feel.  I do not know how you feel and cannot feel it for you.  We are all isolated in this way.  By your facial expression I might perceive how I imagine you feel,  but I cannot know for sure that any emotion I feel resembles any emotion you feel in the slightest.  My perceptions tell me that there is a good chance I can share experiences with others,  but I cannot know for certain.  We are all isolated in this way.

Who is the God that makes the grass green? I am.  And you are.   And we all see green & call it green, but do we all see the same thing?  Many colour blind people cannot of course,  or we perceive they cannot because they score differently on colour blindness tests.  In a world of seperation & isolation,  where I cannot know,  but only perceive the possibility that our experiences and perceptions can be the same,  how do I stop being alone?  I must have some sort of faith.  I must trust my perceptions.  To be so utterly alone is tantamount to despair.  The power of our belief is enormous,  but can be so very undermined by itself.  How can I connect if I cannot do more than perceive.  If I am told I am loved,  how can I know I am,  or measure that love?  More critically,  How can I be loved unless I can love also? What is Love?  If we cannot love adequately,  we cannot trust to be loved and we are isolated.  Only in self love and self acceptance can we trust ourselves to be loved and to trust those who love us.  Also to trust those who love us, they must also love and accept themselves.  Those things are not easily learned,  and are rare on this planet. The act of faith and belief in those that love us is that they have self love & self respect enough to be able to love us too.  We risk all when we love,  because love is organic – if it does not grow,  it withers and dies.  Self love and self acceptance are so rare in the world,  but cannot be bought,  only earned.  Once we have earned them,  we can believe in the love others have for us and accept them,  only then can we understand that love is freely given and no longer earned – though it always requires our careful tending.  Love and acceptance are the most powerful things in our lives.  They make us powerful,  and their loss inconceivable to those who achieve them.

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Depression & Medication

I was wondering what the latest news on meds for depression is ?  I was on a very high dose for more than 15 years,  then the doctor said because it seemed the meds were no longer working,  & I was already above the recommended dosage he would have to change my meds,  that meant coming off all meds for 5 days.  At the end of the 5 days I all but bounced into his office in love with life again,  and to this day,  a year later,  have not been on any medication.  I still have to work hard at it though.  t’s not easy,  it’s 2 steps forward and one step back,  but it would seem I am better off the meds.  What is the conventional wisdom on this topic?  Madam X

There are a lot of solidly good General Practitioners about – my own Doctor is a sterling example,  but the thing even the best Doctors lack most is time.  Most Doctors prescribe antidepressants regardless of whether they are the best method of dealing with depression.   It is a scattergun approach as they can only tell if an antidepressant works for you if you don’t report discomfort or side effects – add to that the difficulty, that some drugs such as Prozac take three months to build up in the blood stream before they have an effect.  Even that issue is clouded by the placebo effect – people feeling better because they got a little attention & spoke about it feel reassured & better before the pill can possibly work.

I personally have poor reactions in side effects to medications,  and was told that my “no dose” list was the largest of anyone in the surgery – mainly because I don’t come back in a few weeks with a different ailment,  I take notice of the effects meds have on me, so I’m not back reporting new ailments,  but relevant side effects.  Most blood pressure treatments are unsuitable for me,  for example.  I’m very aware that depression meds is a huge industry,  but one that ideally shouldn’t exist on such a scale.  The majority of people report being depressed if they feel a bit down,  which isn’t the same as being depressed.  Clinical depression is the only category of depression that should be treated with drugs in my opinion.  To me, clinical depression  includes nervous breakdown,  PTSD,  Psychotic disorder and personality disorder.  Being a bit fed up,  a bit stressed etc are circumstantial depressions,  relatively minor brain chemical difficulties that are best treated by talking treatments  (which most Doctors have not the time to do)  to locate the causes of the down feelings and process from them.  To some extent,  PTSD falls into this category,  though good therapy being hard to find,  it is more difficult to treat and requires a longer period.  To give antidepressants to people who are not clinically depressed actually causes problems.  This is because depression is actually a symptom of the causative condition,  and while the cause is not being addressed,  the symptom is. Think of it like this:  A kettle full of water is placed over a cooker ring.  The water heats up.  Depression is equivalent to the steam coming from the spout.  “Doctor, I have steam coming out of my spout”  “Take three ice cubes three times a day”.  “Doctor, it helps a bit,  but I still get steam”  “Increase the dose to 5 ice cubes”.  Or the Doctor prescribes something more effective,  such as sealing the spout.  The kettle then has no way to let steam out and it gets worse.  Okay,  thats a humourous way to see it,  but effectively,  the cause needs an outlet or symptom.  If you cure a symptom without addressing the cause,  you develop a new symptom.  The cause is still there,  so symptoms continue to develop.  I think you are wise to feel able to do without anti depressants most of the time if you feel okay.  Co-counselling may be a way for you to cope – in other words,  find someone with similar needs and have regular meetings in private,  use the time to take turns talking and listening.  If you can find a listening skills course  (or basic counselling skills level 1),  that would be the ideal place to find someone to co-counsel with,  and the skills to go about it.  Done at the right time in life,  you may be able to negate the need for anti depressant meds permanently.  I hope this helps.

Illustrating my point regarding symptoms, when children grow up,  but still live at home with parents,  they frequently develop symptoms that are associated with not  “flying the nest”.  Usually this can be skin rashes or asthmatic breathing difficulties,  The symptoms can be treated,  but there is no cure better than growth and independence.

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Relationship Tension

As the recession bites,   and debts increase,  relationships inevitably suffer.  Financial tension has destroyed many marriages,  so we should prepare to see the divorce rate rise with its accompanying depression and anger.  With this in mind I thought I would present some information that frequently gets aired in relationship therapy.

When working with a couple,   I consider three parties,  him,  her,  and them (using the heterosexual pattern as a model for today).  Very importantly,  I stress before we begin,  and with regularity – I do not take sides,  I do not judge or blame.   I am to be forgiven my generalisations here,  chiefly because I am not writing with any particular couple in mind.

An equal relationship is difficult to achieve,   even with the best will in the world,  by two people who have different roles within a relationship.  Generally speaking,  when a woman loves a man she cares how he feels.  Generally speaking,  when a man loves a woman,  he cares how he feels about her.  In all the years that I have quoted the last two sentences in couples therapy,  nobody has ever disputed these assertions.

Resented roles play a damaging role in relationships.  A frequent example is the person sick of performing the same thankless tasks over and over.  In this case,  we’ll pick tidying. The place gets messy quickly,  only one of the couple  (this example works in shared communities too)  seems to pick up & clean up – often.   Nobody else sees the mess,  so the pick-up-person feels lumbered with a task they increasingly resent,   and the resentment builds.  By the time I see the couple,   this has been a long term topic of argument,  they have tried to look at taking turns,  but it doesn’t work.  Here is why:  Pick-up-person has more awareness of and discomfort with mess and untidiness.   If by some miracle,  other partner did pick up, it would likely be not to pick-up-person’s standards.  The solution is that Pick-up-person continues to pick up,  but others in the house acknowledge and show appreciation when this is being performed around them.  Pick-up-person feels appreciated,  and no longers resents picking up.  This applies to cooking and other tasks,  and comes under the subject of strokes.  Strokes are a Transactional Analysis term for appreciation,   it can be verbal acknowledgement,   or a hand on a shoulder,  it is a demonstration of personal appreciation.

Strokes happen all around us,    and I’ll take my example from Eric Berne’s original book on Transactional Analysis:  Games People Play.   Two neighbours pass each other by on the way to work in the morning.  Every morning they say  “Good Morning”  to each other,  only this and nothing more,  they do not know each others’ names.  Suddenly,  one of them isn’t there in the morning,  and is absent for a few weeks.  When he reappears,  instead of Good Morning,   the other will greet him and mention he hadn’t seen him for awhile.  The first will mention his illness or holiday etc and some details are finally exchanged.   The following morning the two return to the basic greetings of before.  Breaking this down,  the basic acknowledgement stroke was like currency,   the two exchanged the same greeting,  so all felt stable.   When one disappeared,  the other noticed & felt cheated of the basic strokes,  but not enough to go looking for explanations.  When he reappeared,  the other felt owed a two week supply of strokes,  resulting in a longer exchange.  Once done, with debts paid,  they return to the basic acknowledgement,  quite happily.   If a couple have a long history of working hours,  they are settled into a certain pattern of hours together which contain numerous routine behaviours.  Should one of them lose a job or go to shorter working hours,  stroke psychology enters the equation.  One may feel aggrieved and guilty they are not able to pull their weight financially,  guilty at imposing a belt-tightening regime,  but angry at having working hours and pride torn from them.   They may be more underfoot,  depressed,   avoiding giving an account of feelings of failure.  It is important to communicate not just the facts of what has changed,  but the feelings also,  allowing both parties to adequately adjust.   In such, and other exchanges,  be careful not to push opinions that may seem judgemental.  Discuss feelings with  “I feel”  statements, rather than  “I think”  statements.   “I think we need to get more money in”  can convey guilt and pressure,  “I think…”  sounds judgemental.  “I feel stressed by our finances”  is hard to dispute,  you own your feelings,  others do not feel judged by them.

Every relationship is organic,  you have not arrived,   the relationship needs feeding and tending to and requires tender loving care by both parties.

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