Category Archives: Problems and outcomes

Moving though deeply held pain as it arises

the-act-of-1419218_960_720Psychotherapy can be really effective at helping people feel better when painful emotions are at the surface.  But how can it help when the pain is tightly held somewhere deep inside?

Sometimes we are so expert at coping with the pain of our early years that we block it off almost completely.  As a short term coping strategy this can work reasonably well but unresolved it can leave a person feeling numb, detached, but strangely attracted to situations in which there is a risk of that pain being triggered.  When external circumstances do topple us into the pain it can be sudden and scary.  In desperation it is tempting to scramble for distraction (drink, drugs, TV, games, intellectualisation, relationship drama, etc) in the hope that the pain will go away again.  It generally does.  But nothing really changes.  And the same patterns repeat themselves until the pain comes back again.

We can only resolve those things that we allow ourselves to become aware of.  This can sometimes be somewhat intense, a “dark night of the soul”.  If, rather than distracting or avoiding these emotions, one expresses them (moves them out) then this can lead to a much deeper sense of relaxation and embodiedness.

I received the following mail from one of my clients (reproduced here with permission).  I’m so proud of the way they are courageously accepting and moving though the emotions as they arise.

I had another painful night last night – although I did fall asleep earlier, and slept longer, although I woke early.
I’m doing my best to screen out the noisy thoughts – catastrophic and less catastrophic – that crowd in on me. I’m also trying not to pursue thoughts that appear to be life-lines from the pain I am experiencing. Instead, I am attempting to focus on the feelings themselves, in their rawest, most inchoate and uncomfortable form. I’m trying to keep in mind what you said about preparing for the worst – which I understand to mean the worst my emotions can open on to. I also tried last night to release my groans and other expressions of pain in a way that released them up and out, rather than in a foetal position.
Today I feel a bit less raw. My body doesn’t feel quite so flooded with adrenaline (fight or flight), so I’m not feeling inner trembling and complete loss of appetite quite so acutely. *** I am trying to connect as much as I can with my feelings as they arise – not ignoring them, but trying to invite them in and sit with them as much as I can. The desire to clutch at anything that might offer relief from the discomfort is still there. I don’t mean alcohol, or anything like that. Rather, I tend to seek out anyone I can talk to and then talk, and talk, and talk. It can help, in the short term. But this time, I am attempting not to do that so much. Preparing for the worst means going towards to pain, not looking for ways to avoid or defer it.
For now, I am not talking to *** about practicalities in our relationship. That will come in time, if it needs to. The act of opening the hand to allow the butterfly to take wing doesn’t require words. It’s a simple act, isn’t it? I would like to be that open hand, to know exactly what it feels like to take that step, and not to be afraid of the consequences. I realise that I am effectively ‘talking’ now. Yes, but I am also trying, in some way, to write out my feelings.
I have come to *** to try and get some work done. I don’t really care how successful I am, so long as I remain open to the ebb and flow of the emotional tide I am rising on. I hope I can do that, and I hope – at least for now – that it will be enough.

Un-fuck yourself

girl-956683_1920Bad things happen to good people.

To make it worse, when these bad things are happening, the good person can become convinced that it is actually their fault and that they deserved it because they are a bad person.

That’s fucked up.

And it fucks us up. Some people get more fucked up than others, but most of us are at least a little bit fucked up.  That’s normal.

So most of us grow up believing that, deep down inside, we are at least a little bit bad and probably don’t deserve to be happy, healthy, and wealthy.

Who wants to think of themselves like that? Who would want to hang out with us if they realised that we are bad? To avoid self-hatred and loneliness, we do our best to be good.

But that can be really hard work.

And, every now and again, when we are under pressure, we do something bad.  And it hurts someone else. And we either feel guilty for what we have done (painful).  Or we find a way of blaming the other person for the situation (less painful … for us).

And so the fucked up cycle continues.

Until you decide to change it.

Find a good psychotherapist.

Un-fuck yourself.

Hearing voices

It is common for people to talk to themselves or hear seemingly external voices to a certain extent.  Thankfully most of us do not have to go through what Eleanor Longden did.

I wonder if she still hears voices?  At the end of the talk she says “What lies within us can never be truly colonized …”  I’m not exactly sure what she means by this but I see the objective of personal development as colonizing our own bodies as fully as possible.

In order to assist people in more fully inhabiting their own bodies it is necessary to displace any other entities that may have taken up residence there.  To do this I have developed a way of facilitating re-connection (facing towards the source of the voice), de-fusing (taking back what is yours and giving back what is theirs), and separation.  I find that there is rarely (never?) any need for cutting.

Eleanor talks about her voices being companionable.  One of the consequences of separating from entities is that people often have to experience their own feelings of emptiness or loneliness.  This would be the next thing to work through in therapy.

When this process is successful I would expect clients to find that the voice has completely gone, that they feel more fulfilled, and they are more able to bring their full attention to the world around them.

Expressing anger responsibly

For years I experienced high levels of frustration that would manifest itself as body tension and violent fantasies.  In my dream world I would be an avenger inflicting violence on those who deserved it (usually thieves, disrespectful chavs, or litter louts).  In the real world though I was afraid of violence and not sure if it was the fear of being hurt or the fear of the consequences of hurting someone else.

After I trained as a therapist I was comfortable with all emotions except anger and would unconsciously pussy foot around the subject for fear of provoking my clients.  In my training I had been taught very little about the practicalities of working with angry or violent people.

It was not until 2010, on a somewhat esoteric shamanic training, that I learned how to engage with anger directly and work with it effectively.  It was a turning point for my practice and for me.

Now anger is one of the emotions I’m most interested in at the beginning of therapy.  I have a number of ‘anger meditations’.  They are crucial for people who’s anger is very much on the surface and being expressed in ways that are hurting other people or themselves.  They can also be very useful for clients who claim to have no anger in them as often these are the people who are experiencing most frustration.  Anger contains so much energy … and containing it also requires so much energy.  Relieving the pressure inside frees this energy up and transforms frustration into a powerful assertiveness that is especially useful for reconnecting and clearing out connections with others.  I see these relationship connections as the pipes in my plumbing analogy.

This video shows some of the anger meditations that I recommend to my clients for practice both within the therapy room and at home.  The idea is to practice ways of connecting with and moving the anger responsibly – so that you, the objects around you, and the people around you are safe.  The video includes:

  • Punching anger meditation
  • Cushion slamming anger meditation
  • Vocal anger meditation (with the Howl Towel)
  • Silent screaming
  • Throwing anger meditation
  • Tantruming anger meditation

I don’t claim that these meditations will completely resolve any anger issues you may have.  But they should take the pressure out of any frustration and provide a set of safer ways that you can channel your anger as and when it arises.

Working respectfully and appropriately with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and questioning (LGBTQ) clients

I attended a course on working with LGBTQ clients yesterday. One of the highlights was this thought (and tear) provoking video.

“Teen bulling and teen suicide based on someone’s sexual preference is ridiculous – and this film turns the tables on modern society. What IF the shoe was on the other foot?. ” –K.Rocco Shields (Creator/Director)

I was surprised that from some statistics quoted on the course it seems that the rates of bullying for LGBT identified children are only slightly higher than the average. Perhaps it is bullying in general rather than discrimination that is the real problem?

I am also interested that the creator of this film uses the term ‘sexual preference’. On the course we were introduced to the Ally’s Guide to Terminology and according to this ‘sexual preference’ is a term to be avoided. As is ‘homosexual’ and ‘same sex attraction’. Some good guidance in here but I don’t think I’ll be following it religiously.

Psychotherapy for 2nd generation holocaust survivors

Photograph of Auschwitz

Consider the last time you threw a rock into a calm lake … the ripples from that impact can end up travelling a long way and taking quite a while to settle back down. If they reflect from other objects in the lake then the resulting addition and cancellation of the waves can create patterns that would be difficult to predict.

And so it is with trauma. Complex symptoms can often have simple root causes when you look deep enough. The thing that many people are surprised to find out is that the root cause may not even be in their lifetime. Much of the work I do with people involves healing traumas from their parents’ lives, their parents’ parents lives, or even beyond.

How could something that happened so long ago, and to someone else, possibly be affecting you? The last century of European history certainly contains many situations of almost unimaginable suffering. That anyone could live through those situations without any physical or psychological scars would be surprising.

Consider someone who lived through the holocaust of world war two. If they didn’t see horror directly then chances are they were painfully aware of it. If they survived then they probably knew many other people who didn’t. Their survival may have come as a result of other people’s sacrifices. But they coped. And got through it.

When we experience traumatic situations we often don’t have the luxury of being able to process them at the time. If action is required then better we take it in order to survive. The problem comes if we never take the time to really reflect upon the past and allow the emotions to move through us. The unresolved emotional content stays with us in our body but becomes partitioned off. A psychological no-go zone.

All parent’s unconsciously invest their hopes and dreams in their children. For survivors of a significant traumatic time such as the holocaust then what better evidence of their survival than to bring in a new generation? The children pick up their parents’ attitudes – which will now be coloured by their experiences of scarcity, helplessness, or physical danger. Children realise that there are certain things that trigger their parents to become upset. They may feel responsible for this upset and may even be blamed for it and told off for being ‘bad’. While their physical needs may be being met it may be like they are walking on emotional eggshells.

And eventually they have children of their own. These are usually the clients I see. Clients with anxieties, relationship problems, or psychological blocks that are difficult to pin down as they often can’t point to anything significantly traumatic in their lives. And they are often quick to emphasise that their parents tried their best and did a good job of bringing them up. Despite that they often describe their parental relationship as either ‘very close’ or ‘distant’ … both of which bring their own relationship challenges.

By working back through the generations I can help reconnect both the maternal and paternal family lines. In the client’s imagination I start to open up a channel of honest communication with their mother. As the truth begins to flow then it is likely to bring up unresolved emotional content from the mother’s childhood. I work to reconnect the mother to her mother (alive or dead … it makes no difference as I am working through my client’s imagination). As the truth flows back another generation it starts to nudge on the mum’s mum’s psychological no-go zones. This is where the real healing needs to happen. Mum’s mum gradually remembers the times that she decided to forget. She reconnects with her younger self. She allows the sensations to move through her body and complete.

When the major trauma is healed then mum’s mum is feeling more herself. She is totally available for her daughter. She can take anything her daughter has to throw at her. And then hugs her (usually). Her daughter (my client’s mum) feels safe and grows up. She is less reactive and more available for her partner (my client’s father). Once the father’s side is also clear then any relationship issues can be sorted out and it becomes clear between them. In their imagination my client may see their mum and dad hugging. And then be invited into that loving space between them. In this healing space my client gets what they need. Finally their problems simply melt away.

I am very grateful to a client for providing the following links:
New Israeli study finds signs of trauma in grandchildren of Holocaust survivors
The impact of the holocaust on survivors and their children

Conquering your fear of heights

Acrophobia is an extreme or unnatural fear of heights.  This is not to be confused with vertigo which is actually a sub-type of dizziness and describes a whirling movement.

Is it natural to have a fear of heights?

Most of us are energised when we are in a high place with little protection.  Perhaps this is, in some way, a natural fear?  Perhaps it is in our genes?  Scientists have done experiments with children in which they are invited to crawl across a sheet of glass called a ‘visual cliff’ with a drop below.  As one might expect the babies show a degree of caution when venturing across.  That said, it appears that one can become quite at home on a rock face, or other high place.

Do I have a phobia of heights?

A natural fear of heights could be considered a phobia when it begins to interfere with normal activities such as going to work in a high rise office, or climbing a ladder.  (Of course, some people have more challenging work conditions than others.)

I believe phobias are created by a significant emotional event in which you are frightened out of your skin.  The frightened you gets locked in time and the dominant you becomes frightened of the fear itself.  The sudden nature of the fear can make a phobia quite tricky to budge with will power alone.  Luckily they can usually be treated quite successfully using a variety of techniques by a therapist such as myself.

How can I improve my head for heights?

If you reckon you’ve got a reasonable head for heights then I challenge you to watch the following video and notice if any emotions arise for you.

If you do feel any sensations then rather than looking away or contracting around them I would suggest that you:

  • Continue to watch
  • Relax your body
  • Breathe deeply
  • Breathe into the part of your body that is tense (probably your stomach)
  • Make noises on your out-breath (sighs, groans, etc)

This exercise will trigger and move any trapped energy and allow you to become even more centred.  Good luck!

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