To binge or not to binge

steve_goreI’m loving all the humour going around the internet about the virus…one of them states that the last time we had a worldwide crisis we were asked to go and fight for our country…this time we only are being asked to sit on the couch.

My partner and I are watching a truly appalling Netflix series…I’m too embarrassed to even share it’s title.  Before the crisis we watch two or three episode most evenings.  With the lockdown we’ve decided to limit it to one episode a day.  The reasoning is simple.  This lockdown is a marathon, not a sprint.  If we limit our viewing we give ourselves something to look forward to every day.

If you want to do a lot of watching, get a bunch of series you want to watch and interweave them.  Making yourself wait is a good discipline…and self discipline is very important at this time… and the anticipation makes the viewing more enjoyable when you do watch it.

Give it some thought.

Covid 19 – do and don’t!

steve_goreI was recently out with a friend who is desperately worried about Covid 19 (and yes, we probably shouldn’t have met).  Her concerns are entirely reasonable but it was apparent to me that her worrying was changing nothing positively but it was compromising her health.  Stress lowers our resistance and makes us vulnerable to any sickness.

I suspect one of the problems is our habit of either/or thinking.  Either I take this virus serious and worry like mad, or I think it is a storm-in-a-teacup and ignore the “new rules” and laugh at those who are worrying.  Maybe we connect worrying with taking it seriously, and not worrying with not taking the pandemic seriously.

I advocate doing both – in my previous blogs I have advocated both/and thinking rather than either/or thinking.

To do this we do take it seriously and we don’t worry.  We follow the guidelines for keeping everyone (not just me) safe, and while doing that we also we look for humour, we connect with our spiritual self by walking on the beach,  going fishing, gardening, playing our musical instruments, meditating, stretching, practicing diaphragmatic breathing and so forth.  We share the funny posts on social media.  My favourite is this one.  We can use time in isolation to reconnected…call  or, better still, Skype someone you haven’t spoken to in months or years.

By doing this, and keeping ourself balanced and happy, we actually keep ourselves safer and come out the other side of this thing a better version of ourselves.

On that note – have a great pandemic!

Ooops! I forgot my body

There is an aspect of therapy called, “somatics”.  It relates to our body’s reaction to something – the sensations we feel.  We often forget or ignore what is going on in our bodies and only pay attention to what is going on in our head.

If we have had a traumatic experience, such as witnessed our child have a nasty accident, we may find ourselves reluctant to let our child out of our sight, or do things like climb trees, visit friends or all the other normal childhood things.

While we might think that we are acting out of fear or reason, there’s a strong chance that most of the time what is driving that reluctance is us trying to avoid that horrible sensation our body experienced when the trauma occurred from recurring.  That sensation is our amygdala, the smoke alarm centre of our brain (the part that triggers a “fight or flight” response), firing off signals that there is danger around.

How we respond to that unpleasant sensation can make things worse, or can make things better for us.  If we don’t actively notice that sensation and automatically follow what it tells us (to not let our child out of our sight) then we train ourselves to find more and more danger…and we begin to shut our lives down.  If we pay attention to that sensation, we listen, evaluate, and make an active choice to ignore that sensation and simply ride through the unpleasant wave of stress, we teach ourselves that our brain got it wrong and, over time and repeating slightly stressful things, we begin to calm our amygdala down and our lives open up with opportunities we can embrace, rather than run from.

The thing to hold in mind, when you encounter these situations, is to pay careful attention to what sensations you feel.  “My chest feels tight”, my heart is racing”, “my stomach feels heavy” and connect this with that thought that is occurring, which is likely to be something like, “this feels dangerous, I’ve got to get out of here”.  If you can hold that thought – look around and appreciate that you are safe, you can allow yourself to ride that unpleasant wave of stress until it fades away…which it will.  When you stay in the situation and ride that wave, you teach yourself that you are safe.  If you allow that physical sensation to drive you away, the stress passes quickly and the lesson you accidentally learn is that you were right to run, so there must have been danger….so you unintentionally teach yourself that safe places and situations are dangerous, because your body told you they were.

If this connects with your life it might be worth coming in and getting some skills to help overcome this and allow you to live a freer life.

 

Listen to Bob!

Bob Marley famously said ….“Everybody is going to hurt you.  You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for”.

I mostly agree with him.  However the notion that people are going to hurt you feels a bit harsh.  Sure, sometimes people deliberately hurt you but far more often the hurt happens by accident.  I’d prefer to say, you are going to get hurt by everyone, so you need to decide which ones are worth suffering for.

Hurt and offence is often taken when it is not given.  It’s important (but really difficult) to hold this in mind, especially in our most important relationships.  When we say, “You hurt me!” we are casting blame on other person, and implying that they take responsibility for your emotional state.  The problem with blame is that it often leads to outcomes we didn’t intend and don’t want.  The other person might think, “I’m not a nasty person”, so to defend themselves as being a decent person, they might cast a blaming statement back, like “You need to stop being so sensitive”…and suddenly there’s a fight happening.

A rephrase, like “I was hurt by what you said” can change everything.  It is free of blame, it is taking responsibility for your own emotions and its an invitation for something healing, like an apology, rather than inviting an attack back.

Think of the times you hear of men using the excuse “She made me so mad I lost control”, as if it is his partner’s job is to ensure he feels good all the time.  This is a ridiculous suggestion for many reasons but foremost is that you can never know what form hurt will come in.

No one is immune to this.  An innocuous comment from my partner about her plans for the day triggered a sense of failure in me that led me to labelling her as demanding.  When I reflected on how we wound up arguing I realised the problem was all me – I was feeling sensitive and read things into her comment that were not on her mind or in her intentions at all.  I sorted this out with her by saying, “when you said X it bought up Y for me and I reacted badly, and I’m sorry that my reaction led to us fighting.”

Hurt happens – when we learn to see it for what it is, take responsibility for being and causing hurt, and use new strategies  to prevent it to from taking us over, that we can sail through life in peace.

Who am I?

When I do Te where tapa wha with clients I encourage them to get quite speculative when we operate in the space of hinengaro, the mind.

While people are drawn to the big diagnostic labels, like “anxious”, “depressed”, I believe there is a lot of value in digging deeper for subtle words that describe both your current and persistent experience of life.

Scaling can be helpful, because we often feel degrees of something, rather than all or nothing. “On a scale of 0-10, how “safe” do you feel, whatever “safe”, might mean?”. “In general, a scale…how calm do you feel?” “If 0 is total failure and 10 is total success what number would you give yourself?”, is a really helpful question. A lot of us journey through life with, what Michael White called, a “failure story”, which we don’t acknowledge, even to ourselves. It sits there as a vague sense, lurking in the shadows of our lives. Often, I see a huge sense of relief for people to acknowledge that they feel like a failure. Dragging these ideas about ourself our of the shadows can give us the opportunity to attend to them. When we leave them in the shadows they undermine our lives.

When I asked one recent client if the words, “lonely”, or “alone” might fit him, he told me that he felt alone, but not lonely. This is great learning! It is in these subtleties that we truly understand ourselves at a useful level.

It’s easy to sail through life without taking the time to reflect on this question of “who am I at the moment..?” But there is a lot of value in this reflection. These “ways of being” play out in our lives, especially when we don’t acknowledge them. When we can be overt about their presence and understand why they are part of our life we can avoid being drawn into reacting from them…loneliness, failure, disappointment, fear, uncertainty or something else

Recently I had a small (and totally undeserved) explosion at my partner. When I calmed down and reflected on what let that explosion happened it was some innocuous words she said (she told me she was going into town to do some printing) that triggered a sense of failure connected with something that happened the previous week at work. If I had appreciated that I was sensitive to it, I hopefully would have reacted differently.

While this is something that anyone can do by themselves, it’s far better to do it in conversation with someone, so it can be done with genuine curiosity. It’s not about fixing anything…it’s just about having a clearer picture of who it is that walks through the spaces and interactions of your life.

Ka kite ano

Steve

“Sorry” seems to be the hardest word

steve_goreIn New Zealand and, I’m guessing, the rest of the world, we are taught to apologise when we have done something wrong.  Sincere apology can be a great healer for yourself and repairer of relationships.  However, sometimes finding sincerity can be difficult, especially if you feel like you haven’t done anything wrong, or that the person you are expected to apologise to doesn’t deserve it or should apologise to you first.

There is a way through this that can also make our apologies more effective, enduring and powerful.

If two kids are fighting and a parent says, “apologise for hitting your sister/brother!” the words being asked for are, “I’m sorry I hit you.”  The focus of that style of apology is on the person giving the apology.  He or she might as well be saying the words to the wall and they would be as meaningful to the other.  That style of apology is about my actions and restoring myself as a worthy human being.

What about the other person?  Where are they in the apology?   In the words, “I’m sorry I hit you.”, the apology would be almost the same, if the ‘you’ wasn’t there.  The message the other might be receiving is, “I’m sorry for my actions but what happened to you is of no interest to me”.  When we ask our children to apologise in this way we are inadvertently asking them to think only about themselves, not the effect of their actions on others, and I think we can agree that teaching our children empathy and cause and effect is important.

A more effective way is to focus the apology on the other person, rather than yourself and your words or actions.  When this is the focus of apology, you don’t even have to express regret for your actions.  “I’m really sorry you were hurt during that fight we just had.   I wish that fight didn’t happen”, is an apology and statement of regret that is focused on the other person, and doesn’t even mention the action.  This apology is about appreciating and connecting with the other person’s experience of what happened and expressing regret that they had an unpleasant experience.  It’s about restoring them, not you.

This doesn’t give you a “get out of jail free” card.  While the focus of the apology might be on them, not you , it is helpful to take responsibility for your action.  Taking responsibility is different from taking blame.  Blame is something generally pointed at the other and can be broad or totalising (totalising is when we give someone an unescapable label that defines them  “You’ll never amount to anything”).  When you take responsibility for something you are simply stating what you did or said.  It is helpful to avoid justifying yourself, unless you are asked to.  If you said, “I said some things and called you some hurtful names that I regret”, you are taking responsibility, but if you justify that by adding, “But you started it when you called me…” it looks to the other like you are blaming them for your actions, which is unfair and, frankly, a bit pathetic.  You are basically saying you have no control over yourself and everything that you do is someone else’s fault…don’t be that person!

If the other person asked why you did something you are expressing regret for, you can use this as an opportunity to invite them into responsibility, while avoiding blaming them… “when I heard myself called X, a rush of anger came over me and I lashed out. ”  This is a bit different to saying, “when YOU called me X…”

I worked with a client recently on just this issue.  Something had happened where doing her job had caused a huge inconvenience for another worker.  My client felt she couldn’t apologise for what she had done with any sincerity as it was her job but when we discussed apologising for the inconvenience to her colleague she saw the possibilities that this may create.  She did just that and their relationship was quickly restored.  All the other person was looking for was acknowledgement that they had been hurt and that they mattered to the person who caused the hurt.

When couples fight apology is important to restore their relationship.  In a fight both are often left with the sense of being attacked and hurt and both are waiting for the other to heal that hurt.  An apology that only acknowledges the actions and not the hurt doesn’t do the job fully.  It doesn’t express caring for the other.  It can leave the recipient with the lingering notion that their partner will do the same thing again because they don’t care that they have hurt them.

I hope this has offered some helpful ideas.  Effective apology is difficult.  It is subtle, nuanced and requires careful languaging.  It is definitely something that you should delivered when tempers are cooled and you have time to think carefully about what  happened, how you were hurt, what you regret, what you want to take responsibility for and, therefore, what you want to say.

Ka kite ano

Steve

 

What’s post-structural and narrative?

steve_goreI heard once that there are over 60 different recognised “therapies” – theoretical ways in which counsellors work.  Narrative counselling, which I use, is one of those.   This post is my opinion on the broad differences in counselling and doesn’t pretend to be definitive.

Before I start I want to stipulate that all therapies are good and valid.  What makes them effective is that the therapist sees the world through the lens of that therapy and that both the therapy and the counsellor “fits” with the client – that the client can totally trust the person they are sharing their problems with and the work feels right to them.  Clients should be less interested in, “What therapy or technique is being used here?”, and more in, “Am I getting what I need?  Do I feel safe revealing my fears, regrets, self-doubts and shames with this person?”.  While counsellors will have a theoretical base, most counsellors dip in and out of various techniques, if they believe it will be helpful to their client, so many counsellors describe themselves as eclectic. or simply don’t describe themselves

There are three broad ways (paradigms) in which counsellors work.

The most widely applied is structuralist counselling.  It is based out of science so includes much of the work that most psychologists and psychiatrists do.   CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is probably the most well known of the structuralist therapies.  These therapies work on on the basis of scientific research and utilise diagnosis and the notion of “proven techniques”.   This work involves the labels we commonly know, such as depression, anxiety, and the labels given to those who experience things like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and so forth.  They treat the human condition as reliable and replicable.  In other words, if you are experiencing anxiety, the symptoms are treatable for you in the same way they are treatable for every other person with anxiety.

The second group of therapies are known as romantic.  Please don’t conjure up notions of princesses and dragons.  It’s called that because it it is underpinned by the “romantic” view of a human as mystical and to be discovered.  Existential Counselling, Gestaltist Counselling and Person Centred Therapy are the best known therapies in this paradigm.  They focus on the client getting to know who they truly are – peeling away the layers to discover their essence.  Exploring their inner world.

My training is in narrative counselling, which is part of the post-structuralist paradigm.  Post structuralism is a way of viewing the word that allows for multiple truths (Which is great when work with couples fighting – to know that they are both right stops me becoming a mediator!), and is strongly focused on relationships…including relationships with problems.  The easiest way to explain this is to appreciate that you can’t be shy on sitting on a beach.  Shyness is a feature of your relationships with …maybe everyone!  I work with clients to view their problems as not “of them”, but “with them”.  If you have depression, things can feel pretty stuck, but if we view depression as an unwelcome  visitor to your life, you can begin to form a relationship with depression that might allow you various measures of control over its visits.

Post-structuralism utilises social stories – the unwritten rules.  How you can be, or speak as a woman, man, father, employee, and how these rules might sit in conflict with your preferred ways of being.  This is a way of working that can allow people to understand why they experience problems, how they are drawn to react in certain situations and can help them make radical changes in their lives and step away from ideas that have held them back.  For more on this follow this link.

Ka kite ano

Steve

The gift of delight

steve_goreI’m curious, when I talk to couples about their relationship, about how they part and how they come together.  My question is usually, “At the end of the day, what comes through the door?” and, “What do you walk into?” With couples whose relationship is going through some turmoil or a slump the answer is often, “sullenness”, “silence”, “eggshells”, “tentativeness”, “hostility” or something along those lines.  

This initial coming together often sets the tone for the whole evening.  If that split second is set by the echoes of an argument of days before, or by stresses of work, or by a day of dirty naps and screaming kids, it sends a message to the other of isolation and disinterest.  

In every intimate relationship an enduring question each is constantly asking is, “Are you here for me?”, and the parting moment and coming together are moments that question comes to the fore.  If you walk into distractedness, the fleeting thought might be, “I don’t matter – her/his mind is elsewhere.”

What would it be like if your parting was a kiss and hug of genuine affection instead of a quick peck that tells your partner that your mind is already out the door and in the office?  What would it be like if “delight” came through the door, or you walked into “delight”?  How might that set a different tone tone for the evening and change the mood of the whole house. Our delight is a gift to our partner (or children, friends, family or colleagues).  Instead of not mattering they become the most important thing in the world to you for that brief moment.  

Every dog owner has had the experience of coming home to wild delight at their arrival.  It’s one of the reasons dog owners love their pets so much…that daily gift of being loved and wanted that their dog gives them, and that moment of coming together is where it gets most strongly expressed.

You could be in the midst of a drawn out argument and still be delighted to see the other.  You can be incredibly hurt by your partner and still be delighted to see them. You could have had the worst day you can remember and still be delighted to see them.  It is only a matter of pausing to remind yourself that you are coming together and wanting to give them the gift of your delight.

ka kite ano

Steve Gore

http://www.baycounselling.co.nz

If you are ready to tackle your problems call 578 0959 for an appointment

“Either/or”…what else?

steve_goreAs a society we find it very easy to slip into what is known as totalising. We take one story or aspect of a person and use it to define them, and use that aspect to totally explain the person.  If we know someone is an addict, we might make conclusions about how trustworthy they are, maybe we might consider them a “failure” by social standards, and we ascribe behaviours to that thing…”They are late because they are an addict.”, “They lost their job because they are an addict.”  This is a very common way of making sense our world and since this way is supported, it is somewhat accepted.  It is also quite unhelpful.

Many of the people I work with have experienced abuse from someone they love, a parent or a partner.  When society learns that a father sexually abused his child, we kick into totalising and binary thinking and struggle to believe anything good about the man.  This can be incredibly difficult for the child, even into adulthood.  Totalising creates one story that urges them to hate this person who they love dearly, and tells them they should overlook  all the good memories of holidays, gifts, support and love.

If they reveal the abuse they will be required to hate this person they love.  If they don’t then there is something really broken about them.  This either/or approach to how we think about abusers can silence people in abusive relationships.  While it is tempting to get stuck on the idea that people don’t reveal abuse because of shame and fear, it can often be more complicated than that.  They may be keeping silent out of love and confusion.

I’ve found it helpful to step away from those “either/or” statements and explore “both/and”.  We don’t overlook, minimise, forgive or accept the abuse but we also explore the good qualities of the person and honour those.  “He was both a loving boyfriend and a violent drunk.”, “She was both a fantastic mother and an abusive binge drinker.”

Let’s be clear, this is not about justifying, explaining or minimising the abusive behaviour – this approach is about the victim of the abuse being allowed to both love and hate a person, so being allowed the freedom to truly own their experience, without the judgement of society telling how they should feel.

Ka kite ano