Category Archives: Secrets of Therapeutic Growth

Shut Down Your Mind, it needs to Rest

In this century, we have seen an overload of devices and appliances to keep ourselves mentally occupied. It is clear that we have to live with this and our new ‘normal’ consists of devices which tell us how to ‘shut off’ too.

The eyes tell us when it is all too much. By the end of the day, my eyes begin to water if I have been looking at the screen for too long. People complain of flashing images from the day when they are trying to sleep. As a professional, it tells me that this person has had too much exposure to stimuli and needs to take a break and repair the self. A break needs to incorporate play and peace. Beach holidays, mountains etc provide us with those precious spaces which take us away from everyday hassle. But simple things can help:

  1. If your eyes and head are beginning to ache, just make the room dark and close your eyes. If you are outside of your home, carry an eye mask like the one you get on flights.
  2. Take a walk. Look at the things around you. If I walk in London, I look at people’s front gardens, how they have made little landscapes. There are lovely little old places to look at. Let your mind wander and think about these things in the present. Try not to think of your problems. If you are looking at the things (in a seeing but unseeing manner) around you but thinking of your problems, it is not being mindful.
  3. If you have a garden, take a little walk and weed it, tend it, put in some fresh soil, fertiliser. The natural world helps to ease the troubles of the artificial one. Just as a phone, a watch, a clock needs to be recharged every now and then, we need recharging. Sounds cliched, but it needs emphasis.
  4. We are just as hardworking even though we are not machines. Children too need to rest and be allowed to do their own thing. Parents who become restless if their child is ‘just playing’ have not understood the great achievements of play which children are achieving. They are learning to master their confusion about separation and loss when they throw away and find their toys. They are venting their anger on unsuspecting teddy bears when they break and soil them-grappling with their own despair and frustration.

If they seem to languidly lie down and doodle away, it is their way of soothing themselves tand recharging. If they are troubling each other, they need something to do. That is the one time when a parent’s intervention is necessary.

Love is Alchemy

The idea of changing a base metal into gold, in real life, can only mean the growth of an individual, through the medium of love and acceptance?

Alchemy as some of you must know, was the ancient art of turning base or common metals and substances into gold. Ancient civilisations believed that the elusive substance, also called a universal solvent, would catalyse the components of metals and turn them into gold.

Similarly, there was a great search for the secret elixir of life- which would retain youth.

To date, no one has actually found either of these substances – the universal solvent or the secret elixir. 

Maybe they were looking in the wrong place – a bit like looking all over the house for your keys but they were all the time in your pocket.

The somewhat simple and common key/universal solvent/secret elixir is Love (Lust, Desire, Acceptance (of the dark side of every person) and a bit of Humour. A good formula. Science has proven that falling in love and enjoying a joke releases chemicals and hormones  which can lead to a great sense of well being and enjoyment of life.

People in love eat less, have raging (positively) hormones and consequently look better. People have swung out of depression by falling in love. Better performance at work, increased motivation etc. When they enjoy a joke, they look all the more attractive. Looking better causes an increase in confidence so it is a win-win cyclical situation,one feeding the other.There is some study which proves that people in love show similar brain activity to those who are mentally ill but some of us may agree that love can be quite an enjoyable illness.

Alongwith falling in love one has to be ready for remaining in love with a changing person. Love ought not to be a commodity which you can return to the shop when it no longer quickens your pulse. 

Love, respect, admiration

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
-from 'Dover beach' by Matthew Arnold

Many miracles and transformations have taken place quietly in loving and accepting relationships, after that first rush of attraction and passion. People have left bad habits, achieved more and overcome impossible hurdles through the love and encouragement of their loved ones.

Couples who are married for years and live in a sort of lively marriage which has not become a dead habit, will tell you the secret -it is living and letting live. Being able to challenge each other helps keep narcissistic issues in check and going through ups and downs deepens love and concern over the years. Too much complaining and not caring about the Other leads to lack of empathy and concern. Each person in a relationship needs to try and remain creative, do different projects, encourage each other etc. A person who simply broods for long hours and does not respond to the other will soon bring the relationship to a standstill and worse, take it to a split.

Mother-the World and the Nest

The Mother is used as a broad term in psychodynamic thinking – it can include the environment in which a child grows as well as the actual mother. In some cases, the father is more maternal than the mother.

We have no control over who gives birth to us. It is the first and most powerful experience with another human being and much as we love and hate her in later life, we are deeply and irreversibly influenced by her – both genetically and psychologically.

She makes up our external world and her reflection and her shadow falls within, in our internal world. Some of us idealise mothers, others feel ambivalent and another group hate their mothers. There is a big majority which sits in the middle, feeling all the feelings of love, hate and ambivalence.

In her absence, one begins to understand how much of her is inside us -in one’s internal world.

If we are able to create and maintain good relationships, overcome the troubled times and continue to live life in a deep and satisfying way,it is felt that there is a good mother inside, who prevails over the bad one (felt during bad times) and continues to feel that life is worth living.

Anxiety-Simple Things to do

Anxiety is a symptom which tells us that something is feeling out of control and/or feeling unsafe. It feels unpleasant and puts brakes on things we would like to do or think about.  The body, mind and heart feel at odds with each other. You can ask yourself three questions:

1.Why am I feeling anxious today? Why do I feel anxious when this or that happens? Just these simple questions can lead to some form of self reflection, a key ‘skill’ in overcoming overwhelming feelings. Starting a dialogue with oneself is one of life’s great achievements. 

2. Is it affecting my body-stomach, head…?

3. Is it affecting my relationships?  

Normal anxiety is inevitable in all our lives, and trying to understand yourself in your own time is a good habit to cultivate. However, too much anxiety begins to cramp your lifestyle. You may find yourself taking lesser risks and avoiding anxiety provoking situations. Some of it is good as it shows a certain sobering self awareness-of what one can do and not do and what to avoid ! 

But if you find your circle of life shrinking and the list of things you can do becoming too restricted, seek help. Talking to a professional or engaging in a group activity where there is a considerate facilitator can be helpful.  At times, anxiety can lead to substance misuse -a false bravado further incited by peer acceptance, can take away anxious feelings for some time. Such debilitating habits may threaten your financial security and from thereon, the fall can be damaging and at times, irretrievable.

Restricting your temptations and not gratifying cravings is something of a ‘muscle’ one builds through life.  Bodies are great things. They adapt to you not having cake just as much as they will adapt to you eating only cake so we do have control !

Taking pleasure in simple things which don’t cost money- a walk in the park, a friendly chat with the neighbour down the road, and having time for a little thought to cherish the interactions you have, even if it is  a small one with the corner shop till worker, can add incrementally to one’s ‘muscle’ for reduction of anxiety. 

In other cases, anxiety is provoked in situations like a much awaited job interview; a driving test; meeting a difficult boss; having difficult relations. Anxiety is not all bad, and with a little care it can be understood and limited. On one hand, increased anxiety tells us that something needs doing; you may be anxious before a driving test, but it may help you to prepare more, see it through and, in fact, make you proportionally elated. On the other hand, your increased anxiety may be telling you that something unpleasant is going to happen. It is a signal to say that we are ‘charged up’ with something, because either the situation demands it or we have ‘sussed out’ internally that we cannot cope with it. For example, people in a fragile state (like those who are convalescing or have been bullied) may find it difficult to even shop in the local market. Everything might feel too much because the mind needs to recover just as much as the body. At times, removing yourself from an unbearable and unbeatable situation can be the only, and perhaps the best, resort.

People come for therapy with anxious symptoms and have not thought of the various links to issues which seem apparently random. The job of the therapist is to find these links and facilitate perspective. Maybe in the past one was not ready for an extraordinary situation (illness, bereavement etc), or that it was of such proportions that it bypassed any skills one had to deal with it at the time (for example recession, bereavement, fatal disease, earthquakes). Clients seek therapy for a number of issues that seem sometimes to happen all at once: for eg, father passed away; redundancy; break up of relationship. Such experiences can make you anxious and timid about forthcoming events for a long time. All anticipation of events is experienced with anxiety. 

The death of important figures in one’s life can create grief for years, coupled with anxiety about leaving that internal self isolation. One can never prepare for the loss of someone who you communicated with often and shared your world and took guidance from. One can carry that grievance for a long time, a grievance against life’s treacherous acts of taking away what you cherished the most. 

Facing the prospect of dealing with people (in workplace or socially) who are like the ones who have triggered our anger, despair and helplessness in the past will trigger anxiety in the present. It could be a bullying school mate, a dominant family member, even an abusive person from the past. Not being in touch with such links may create confusion. Sometimes clients say, “I am anxious, but it cannot be just because of …”.  This is a sign of not being in touch with and therefore feeling ‘cut off’ from important but unbearable feelings.  Let your therapist aid you with it.  Friends and family may not be trained for the job.

We are so used to coping with unbearable situations that we don’t realise at times that we are just coping! Last but not least, our health and any negative variance in it, will trigger our deepest anxiety. Google searching helps and hinders this heightened preoccupation with one’s health in the last decade.  It helps to allay silly fears for the healthy and it hinders living life without having to be anxious about silly fears. 

Summing it up, 

1.Grieve well for those who were important but put a boundary and start living again.

2.Complete that driving test but you don’t have to bungy jump (really not very important and certainly not a sample of bravery). 

3.Increase the muscle not to eat cake. The body will adapt.

4. Walk to the corner shop and chat with someone when you are eft by yourself for too long. Cherish the encounter and walk back home with a smile, don’t go in and buy another bottle.

5. Try not to google too much when you have a headache and don’t self diagnose BPD either. Instead, get some fresh air. 

6. And yes, breathe deeply…it does help.