Time for tears …. but then take charge

We often avoid crying because it makes us feel vulnerable and opens us up to self-reflection and examination of our own behaviours and their consequences. 

Many people are terrified (unbeknown to them) of facing their errors and taking proper responsibility for mistakes.  This is because deep down, these people believe they cannot cope with facing their mistakes, as though the distress might never stop and might drag them into a hole from which they cannot escape. 

In fact, facing our pain and taking appropriate responsibility for events in our lives can be even more scary than deflecting for months or years into anxious, angry or depressive ruminations!   

Yet crying and becoming vulnerable in self-reflection and then taking proper and appropriate responsibility for our part in distressing events is the very treatment that will cure almost anything. 

It is the recognising of our part and responsibility that gives us an ‘analysis’ of what went wrong in the first place and alerts us to what we can do differently in the future – ultimately allowing us to take charge again! 


Age Enhances Intimacy


People often have the mistaken view that great sex only happens in youth and deteriorates with age. 

But very often the reverse is true.  Younger people are frequently unsure and frightened of sex – having not had much practice.  They also experience considerable social pressure to rush in and be physically intimate with partners before they have built adequate psychological intimacy.  

In my work as a clinical psychologist for 25+ years, I have seen the significant problems that can arise when people get ‘physical’ too early.  For example, it often leads to difficulty with desire, arousal, performance and orgasm.  More importantly though, the wider the gap between physical intimacy and psychological intimacy – the higher the level of ‘alienation’ (a mental strategy that results in feelings of disconnection, estrangement, anxiety, hostility and/or repulsion). 

This happens because, if we don’t know our partner very well mentally, yet we are trying to interact with them at very close (and confronting!) physical quarters – then our emotional response is often fear.    

When we get scared, we generally try to flee, repel and create distance.  However, if it is impossible or socially awkward to either ‘acknowledge’ our fear or to physically flee the situation, then we tend to run away mentally instead.

It is the mental behaviour of becoming ‘alienated’ that allows us to run away.  We get stressed, withdraw, repel, disconnect and retreat internally. Unfortunately, one of the inevitable costs of utilizing this ‘strategy’ is that we lose empathy for our partner (since empathy primarily depends upon connection and ‘alienation’ is all about disconnection). 

Interestingly, most people completely lack awareness and cannot acknowledge their own fear in these situations, so they reach for alcohol or drugs to subdue their feelings – which only further diminishes their capacity to connect. 

As further camouflage, people often engage in ‘alienated’ sexual behaviour and fantasy that ultimately lacks empathy and kindness (either towards themselves or others).  For example, they may adopt sexual behaviours that create even more alienation like becoming sadistic or masochistic. 

On the other hand, taking years and decades to really ‘know’ your partner psychologically, reduces alienation and often leads to profound feelings of safety, trust, kindness, love and empathy.  

These are the emotions that are ultimately crucial for truly great sex.  The sort of sex that diminishes fear, alienation and ‘aloneness’ and instead creates loving, friendly and genuinely ‘intimate’ connection.

It is this deep, empathic connection that can help provide us with the strength and support to be brave and strong out in the wider world – and this connection only gets better with age!   



Know Your Vision



We have to know where we are heading in order to take the right path!

In my decades of work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre, I often see people who have lost their way. 

This usually happens because ‘everyday life’ can easily distract us from our bigger goals and before we know it – time has passed and it is too late!   

In order to prevent this scenario, it is important to regularly ask yourself where you intend to be in 1, 2, 5 and 10 years.  Write these goals down and keep them highly visible (otherwise we just revert back to our old neural patterns and forget our more recent insights!)

Make sure the earlier goals you set are compatible (and are steps towards) the larger long-term goals.  Try and be as precise as you possibly can with identifying goals and frequently ‘picture’ what your new life will look like to help sustain motivation.   

As you move forward you may need to let go of certain habits, people or circumstances that are sabotaging your progress. 

Keeping our dignity with age


In my work as a clinical psychologist, I’ve noticed that older people get a tough time in our society – especially women!  Over and over older people are portrayed in photographs and media as insipid, stupid and deferential, unable to carry a conversation except with small children.

This depiction is contemptuous and deeply prejudicial.  Yet, there are three significant reasons it occurs that need to be addressed. 

Firstly, it happens because appearance (especially youthful) is over-valued as an attribute and everyone ages over time.  However, appearance is tremendously over-valued in women who are often socialised to regard their ‘unblemished’ appearance as the most important part of their overall identity.  As a result, when their youthful looks fade, they feel ‘invisible’ like they have been placed on the scrapheap.    

Secondly, in times of rapid change in society, there is more value placed on innovative skills (like knowledge of technology) and these skills are more easily picked up when you have been exposed to them from childhood.  It is easy for older people to feel out of their depth, become discouraged and then turn away from these new skills that would otherwise keep them relevant and connected to society.

Thirdly, older people have been placed in such restrictive and banal categories that many behave in the expected deferential and insipid manner to which we have all become accustomed.  In the process they often quit work too early, take endless cruises, run out of relevance, drink too much, pickle their brains, get boring and lose their dignity (usually in that order!)

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.  But it will only change if older people insist on a different portrayal of themselves – and this (in part) involves older people behaving differently internally: with more dignity, vibrancy and self-respect.

For example, older people need to stop over-valuing physical appearance in themselves, especially women.  Forget appearance-enhancing surgery and stiletto heels.  These so called ‘solutions’ are just silly.  How can anyone expect to be taken seriously without facial lines?

If we don’t change this emphasis, we inevitably set ourselves up for failure as we naturally age.  Instead, love your lines and craggy skin and value your increased ‘vitality’ attained through depth of skills and confidence.  Exude dignity and command respect.  Value yourself as a whole person – not as some ridiculous, brainless barbie doll.

In other words, put your own appearance last on your list and instead bring your attentional focus to other much more important attributes (especially leadership ones) that are all based on years of experience. 

Things like having excellent judgement, huge depth of knowledge in your fields of expertise, great communication skills, being highly strategic, having insight and wisdom and being able to see far enough beyond your own ego so that you can ‘bring others with you’ and extend them true generosity, empathy, kindness, warmth and cooperation. 

You might also want to consider other ‘mature’ skills crucial to good leadership, like exuding serious mental toughness, independence of thought, open-mindedness, willingness to reflect and listen and the capacity to assert and persuade.  Be no-one’s fool!  These skills are all highly complex and require many decades of training, so these are precisely the sorts of skills in which older people can really hold their own and expect to excel.

Older people must also commit far more time and attentional focus to staying abreast of innovative technologies (even if they are intimidating!) that can only enhance and amplify their myriad of skills that come from years of experience.  

Don’t let yourself become irrelevant would be my advice.  Keep working as long as you can (even if you reduce your hours) and stay actively engaged in future technologies. 

This way, you will keep some economic power (ongoing income as well as assets) and you are more likely to build up-to-date skills in new technologies. 

Once you put together your breadth of experience (good judgement, wisdom, insight, strategy, empathy, great communication and the huge ‘vitality’ that arises from this depth of knowledge) plus your new skills in technology and innovation then you are likely to remain highly relevant and in-demand (and maybe even revered!) no matter what your age.    

Re-invent Yourself!

You might think that it’s not easy to re-invent yourself especially with the same DNA!  But in reality, it can be done with some determination and conviction.

I’ve found in my 25+ years work as an author, director, developer and clinical psychologists at the Smart Therapy Centre that people often fail to realise that they can change themselves psychologically even at very profound levels.

We don’t have to be boxed into old, obsolete categories and versions of ourselves.  In fact, whenever we want to, we can decide who we would most like to be, and this change can be achieved much more easily than might be imagined.

Interestingly, if you are determined to change who you are, then it is best done by working from the inside-out by changing your inner attributes (like making yourself more mentally tough or more willing to cry or be vulnerable).  These changes then clearly show on the ‘outside’ to others who ‘read’ them and respond to them by treating you differently.  The changes also register on the ‘inside’ making the person subjectively feel like a completely different person – creating a win-win for everyone!   

To do this, all you need do, is change your behaviour (physical and mental) by changing what it is you focus your attention upon.

Let me give a brief example. 

Let’s say that you often end up doing what other people want you to do rather than what you want to do for yourself.  You feel ‘owned’ by others, as though you are ‘powerless’ in relation to them and you have no freedom to really be yourself.   

Over time, feeling coerced and at the behest of others, makes you feel bitter, envious, blaming and angry that you’re not getting what you truly want in life.  This bitterness means that you struggle to be kind to others and often leaves you behaving cynically and with cruelty.

After a sudden insight, you decide that being bitter and angry is just driving other people away from you and leaving you feeling desolate and lonely.  You notice that you barely have any friends left and are feeling miserable.  So, as a result you make a commitment to change yourself and undertake finding a way to do it.

Now, we know from cutting-edge neuroscience that whatever we pay attention to we will consolidate and learn, and it will become a bigger and bigger part of our physical brain and of our sense of self (the person we ‘believe’ we are) if we continue to focus our attention upon it. 

On this basis, we know that the more we pay attention the more we will pop-up millions of dendritic spines in our brains, that release ‘attractor’ chemicals towards other neurones and build synapses (connections) ‘devoted’ to the exact theme to which we are paying attention.  Thus, physically changing our brain. 

In this example, you suddenly see that you are paying undue attention to your anger, envy, bitterness, cynicism, cruelty and blame by ‘replaying’ these themes over and over (ruminating) in your mind.  This means that over time you will ‘behave’ more and more in accordance with those nasty little well-practised themes towards others.

You reflect even more.  What has caused you to develop these angry themes?  Are you just a horrible person?  Then, all at once you realise that it is because you fail to assert yourself properly in the first place and then feel coerced into meeting other peoples’ demands.  This is what makes you resentful, mean and cruel.

At this point you note that it is NOT because you were born cruel, or that you are intrinsically a mean, bitter or cynical person, but rather the problem has been that you have spent decades ruminating on ‘revenge’ themes because you just never learnt how to get fair outcomes by asserting yourself in the first place.  Not by any means a hanging offence!

So, what do you do?

First you must make a committed decision to change who you are.

Second, you need to think about exactly what type of person you would like to become.  In other words, which precise attributes matter to you.  On this basis, you might decide you would like to become assertive, kind, friendly and never cruel or cynical.

Third, you must identify which of your (current) unique attributes lend themselves well to the new you and then develop, expand and flaunt those fantastic attributes.  You note that you have always been a keen learner with a very curious and open mind.  Also, when you are not being cynical you can be kind as well as hilariously funny and make others feel very warm and happy around you.  You decide to pay lots of attention to these attributes and really expand and flaunt them at every opportunity.

Fourth, you must identify the current aspects of yourself that are simply getting in the way of developing your new identity.  You note that being unassertive in your behaviour sets off the whole cycle, so you determine to learn the complex skills of assertion.  Your good learning skills and curiosity will help you with this.  

You also note that you often have the harsh body language (voice tone, facial expressions) that go with bitterness and hostility and are so easily ‘read’ by others, so you decide to change these into more friendly versions of yourself.  You undertake to smile more, release the jaw, unclench the fists, nod more, have a softer, kinder voice tone.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet ‘feel’ that way, because you soon will, so long as you keep practising!

Also, as part of this step, you acknowledge that you must stop your ‘habitual’ mental behaviours of paying attention to thoughts, feelings, sensations images or memories that are in any way related to anger, blame, cruelty, envy and bitterness.  Give these themes absolutely no air-play time and simply make the decision to stop paying them any attention whatsoever, instead focussing your attention onto the new and constructive skills you are building in order to change yourself.     

There is an old saying that says you must kill the person you were in order to become the person you want to be.  This has a faint glimmer of truth, but the reality is much less violent!  Just spend lots of time paying attention to the inner attributes you would like to develop, making them a larger and larger part of your brain, and pay absolutely no attention to the things you would like to be rid of, allowing your unwanted synapses to break apart with ease.

Keep in mind that neural synapses break apart very quickly when they are no longer used and they correspondingly lose their input capacity – so changes (even large scale ones) can occur very quickly.  Before you know it, you will be thinking and behaving quite differently and you will subjectively ‘feel’ and, be treated by others, like a completely different person.  Your life outcomes will significantly improve.

If, at any stage, you would like assistance with this work, our ‘behavioural change experts’ at the Smart Therapy Centre in Fitzroy North  www.smartherapycentre.com.au  will be more than happy to help guide you in this process.

Let Your Vulnerability Shine Through

Over the decades in my work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre, I have often seen people who have been put on medication for anxiety or depression following stressful life events (SLEs) like separation, divorce, job loss or exam failure.

Luckily most people don’t experience SLEs often in life, but sadly, sometimes things do go wrong. 

Still it is important to remember that SLEs occur for everyone, and as such they need to be viewed as a completely normal part of our lives even though they are distressing at the time.  In other words, there is no pathology present that actually requires medication.   

When we experience SLEs, all of us become physiologically agitated (due to increases in the brain neuromodulator called CRF), often resulting in increased anxiety, poor sleep and loss of appetite.  We may also feel more ‘fragile’ and unconfident or become demoralised and depressed (especially) if we cannot find solutions to our SLE.

I find in my work that the answer to this reaction is not to reach for medication (which can sometimes ‘numb’ the brain and make us less likely to seek effective solutions!), but rather to build new skills that improve our real-life situation, including the SLE.

There are usually many skills that need to be built following such an event.  One of these is the ability to be sad and cry about the SLE (and other distressing aspects of our lives) rather than ‘deflect’ into anxiety or depressive rumination. 

We are all inclined to deflect (and NOT cry) in the very moments where we actually need to come forward and face our devastation. 

This happens because letting ourselves ‘feel’ our sadness can seem very frightening – like it might never stop. But believe it or not, crying is one of the best ways to make our distress go away.  

Yet, crying can be a hard skill to develop for people who have been raised to believe it is ‘weak’ to cry.  Contrary to this weakness view, crying tends to reflect real inner strength and the courage to confront our vulnerability. 

Besides, it may be necessary for humans to cry.  This is because humans have very large brains that give rise to highly complex emotional states – that require some resolution (achieved during crying) if we are to stay emotionally open, robust and responsive throughout life.

When we cry, our brains hold us in a state of ‘sustained attention’ with our intense sadness while we release oxytocin and leucine-enkephalin, which are endorphins that reduce pain and elevate mood. 

As a result, our large neural networks devoted to the sadness theme(s) are activated while at the same time hormonally influenced to become less agitated and to feel less fraught and intense.  This makes us feel subjectively more open and better able to cope after a good cry.

Interestingly though, there is no need to actually ‘shed’ tears.  Some people have been so rigorously trained not to cry that they can no longer produce tears.  Other people are so sad (but desperately trying to pretend they are not sad) that they have ‘blocked’ their own ability to cry. 

In either case, to solve these problems you can just privately go through the ‘motions’ of crying without tears and very soon with practice, the healing tears will flow again.

Sometimes, when people suffer profound sadness they may need to cry very often for many months, but most distressed people only need to cry for a few minutes daily or a few minutes a few times a week (depending on the intrinsic grief at the heart of their SLE) to help resolve their sadness.   

What’s more, you don’t even need to know exactly why you are crying in order for your brain to calm your distress.  Sometimes people cry without this conscious knowledge and their brains nonetheless simply take care of their grief and hormonal responses, and they feel so much more relaxed and able to cope afterwards.

In any case, when you have finished crying, simply move your thinking onto something constructive in your life like an interesting hobby or new endeavours that might help propel you forward following your SLE like working on your CV or studying or joining various interest groups.

If you need any help with any of these skills, at the Smart Therapy Centre we are experts in behavioural change, so we can coach you and track your progress to make things a little easier.

You Can Do It, If You Really Want!


Diving in the first few times is hard, but after a while it just becomes fun!

In my decades of work as a director, developer, author and clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre I have found that it is not easy to get people to take the plunge into unknown waters! 

But if we want to survive life well and be the best we can, then taking the plunge and continually learning new skills is not just exciting but absolutely essential!

In fact, I would say that almost every person I have ever seen in my clinical work is there because they have experienced a life-changing event (big or small) that has moved them into unknown territory, and they no longer have the necessary skills to allow them to move forward in this new context. 

When we are in this holding pattern, unable to get the traction to progress, we often experience anxious and depressive emotions and thinking styles that are not helpful.  We may also employ many self-sabotaging behaviours like alcohol, drugs, over-eating, outbursts of rage or stubborn sulking as we try to cope.  But these old habits prove useless and only make matters worse.

Instead we must learn not to focus on our negative emotions, but rather simply treat them as a ‘signal’ that we need to learn new and better skills in order to regain the motivation to once again propel ourselves forward. 

In reality, when we lack skills we simply don’t know how to progress, and it is easy to feel defeated and unmotivated.  After all, we humans only have one brain and (unfortunately) we don’t know what we don’t know.

To get around this dilemma, we can often learn these skills by watching other people who are doing well and simply copying their behaviour.  We don’t necessarily need to be super-analytical about it, we can just decide to adopt a new useful behaviour that might give us a better outcome. 

For example, if we keep having outbursts of anger that keep driving other people away, leaving us isolated and alone – we can observe others who do not express anger and who instead always remain friendly and cooperative (especially when negotiating conflict). 

We can just decide to copy them and take any signs of our own anger (even the most subtle signs) off our repertoire.  For example, we simply make the decision to smile and approach others more and make our face and physical gestures friendly (even if we don’t initially feel it).  We can listen more and nod our heads and establish rapport, remaining calm no matter what the situation.  We rationally discuss the issues at hand, putting arguments and countering arguments – while always staying relaxed and friendly. 

We might ‘choose’ to never (even once) use the ‘anger’ strategy for maybe a year and then reassess ourselves and see whether things have improved as a result.  Have we stopped driving others away; are we less isolated now; are we developing a friendship network; are we resolving conflicts better?  If yes, keep going – if no, try something else.      

In any case, if you are feeling stuck and need assistance with these types of issues, then at the Smart Therapy Centre we can coach you to develop both the skills and the fortitude to thrive in your life.  We are ‘behavioural change’ experts and we can teach and enable you to propel yourself forward – so that you learn to swim powerfully on your own!

Show Your True Self


Sometimes it’s hard to be brave! 

In my 25+ years of work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre I notice that people especially struggle when they have come from a difficult background that has eroded their confidence and led to self-doubt.

But the reality is that other people also have limitations (often severe) yet there are many who manage to achieve success despite their rocky start in life. 

It is because of our subjective experience of self-doubt (where we feel flat and unmotivated) that it is very easy to over-estimate our own limitations and hide away from the world telling ourselves that other people are better suited to success. 

The truth is though, if you choose to use them, you have a unique set of attributes that can be played out during your life, but you must use them unashamedly so long as they are good for other people as well.  For example, you would never use anger, violence or blame unashamedly.  On the other hand, you might use hidden ambition, vigilance, intensity, opportunism, high expectations and having an eye for detail freely and to your advantage.

Keep in mind that it is precisely the combination of your unique attributes that make you truly different (and stand out) from other people. 

Interestingly, it is often exactly the things we desperately want to hide from the world that will make us great!

To do this though we have to learn to really use and ‘flaunt’ our difference and turn our self-doubt into useful self-reflection to tell us where we need most to improve!


‘Own’ your True Power!

Since the 1970’s women are taking the reins of power much more frequently, but the process is slower than many of us would ever have anticipated and self-made women are still barely represented on ‘rich lists’ or company boards.

To the extent that women have been successful, it is often attributed to their powerful communication skills and the fact that they are socialised to be excellent at the suite of ‘soft’ skills that are so necessary in management and leadership today.  Yet, women continue to struggle with the skills around mental toughness, initiative and autonomy that are more heavily socialised into men. 

On the other hand, the hierarchical, authoritarian and ‘hard’ management tools of the past are less valued than they once were, and men are now needing to learn how to be less authoritarian and instead learn how to collaborate, gently persuade and bring others with them.

In this climate of change many men and women are really struggling with how to move forward and build powerful careers.  

Added to this, there are many people who have come from difficult backgrounds and have been taught to severely doubt themselves and not trust their own judgement.  This can damage motivation and lead to years of anxious or depressive rumination, inaction and wasted opportunities.

Once we have many doubts and our brains are full of negative mentations, then it is often hard to have high motivation and see our pathway clearly and rationally as we are often overly focussed on those negative preoccupations. 

At this point it can be beneficial to recruit a ‘coach’ (or a brain outside our own brain!) to help ensure a more objective and systematic approach to our ambitions.

This coach could be a highly reliable partner, friend or a professional.  Whoever you choose must be clear about where you are heading and must be committed to you achieving systematic and daily incremental progress in your skills, including your perseverance skills. 

If this seems a bit difficult, you could engage an expert in ‘behavioural change’ at Dr Sallee McLaren’s Smart Therapy Centre and we can coach you to build the necessary motivation and skills, as well as teach you how to minimise your focus on anxiety and self-doubt, thereby allowing you to truly ‘own’ your power!

Muscle up to Success

Most people want to be successful.  We see celebrities 24/7 in the media, and it is easy to think that it just happens.

But this is rarely the case.  Success requires many skills and hard work.  While many people do the hard work, they will usually fail to progress if they lack essential skills.  The trouble is that it is not always obvious which skills are necessary and which pathways to take. 

One of my clients who wanted a powerful career but who had come from a difficult background said initially that she felt like she was ‘missing half the rule book’.  This missing information meant that (despite all her hard work) she had been struggling to make it on her own without the proper skill set.

At Dr Sallee McLaren’s Smart Therapy Centre we can give you the necessary support and if you want specific help and guidance to work out your pathway, the Smart Therapy Centre can provide it.  We can assist you to gain the ideas, skills and the muscle to make your success possible.