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    Getting Strong Inside

    Often psychologists tell people who are low on self-esteem to simply ‘love’ themselves in order to build resilience and a stronger internal sense of self. 

    However, after more than 25 years of
    clinical work at the Smart Therapy Centre, I find this is simply not enough
    information to guide people in that endeavour.

    Being told to ‘love’ yourself assumes
    that we build our sense of self from the inside-out and all we need do is
    change our internal dialogue about ourselves.

    The reality is different.  Humans are highly social and socialised, and
    we build our self-esteem largely from the outside-in based upon what others
    think about us. Over time, we eventually internalise that information.    

    For example, if a child is told by
    others that she is good at maths she will continue being a keen learner of
    maths in order to maintain that social approval. 

    Then as she gets more and more social
    approval over time (more nods, more smiles and more affirmative rather than
    negative comments), she will gradually ‘internalise’ that information into ‘I
    am good at maths’ and this will become part of her sense of self. 

    It is crucial to understand here that
    she was not ‘born’ good at maths.  It was
    instead a socially reinforced behaviour that she later internalised. 

    It is easy to make this mistake
    however, because the child being taught this skill at a young age means that
    later as an adult she will ‘feel’ like she has always been good at maths as if
    she somehow had a ‘natural’ or intrinsic aptitude.

    It is also worth noting that she did
    not simply become good at maths by wishing it upon herself by saying ‘I love
    myself and I am good at maths’. 

    She instead practised maths
    and absorbed the positive reinforcement as she became better and better, until the
    skill was so well-practised it felt like it had always been a part of her.

    Keep in mind here that we can also
    have the reverse happen and we can come to regard ourselves negatively when
    social nuances from others as well as real-life outcomes (such as failing maths
    tests) indicate that we are poor at skills.

    In the end, our self-esteem will
    depend upon how we perform in the real world, which is essentially based
    on the number of skills we hold positively versus the number of skills we hold
    negatively from both our own perspective and from the perspective of others.

    If we want to improve our
    self-esteem, we must build skills. 
    Abstractly ‘loving’ yourself is not enough and it is not even plausible
    when you profoundly lack skills and repetitively fail to get good outcomes in
    the real world.   

    Instead, we must try to build all
    sorts of skills, not just the ‘hard’ skills like maths, languages, debating,
    dancing, sports or general knowledge (although these obviously help enormously),
    but also ‘soft’ skills that ultimately make huge differences to real-life
    outcomes. 

    Soft skills are things like being
    relaxed, open and friendly in conversations (these are behaviours we can easily
    learn to control even if, due to lack of practice, we don’t initially ‘feel’ them).  Other soft skills might include, knowing how
    to initiate, sustain or end conversations well; understanding socially
    acceptable behaviours, contexts and nuances; exercising high levels of internal
    discipline during conflict (not becoming angry, sulky or passive aggressive);
    or knowing how to assert both your own interests while cooperatively advancing
    others’ interests at the same time in order to achieve win-win solutions. 

    These skills are often built during life-coaching
    sessions with therapists, but you can also learn them yourself with truly
    honest discussion, guidance and feedback from peers and loved ones.           

    ... read more

    Behaviour Matters

    Every time we interact with others, we are training them in how they will treat us in the future.  This goes for both adults and children. 

    For example, if we need
    to repetitively ask children to put away their toys, our repetitive
    behaviour is teaching them to ignore us. 

    The way this works is
    that we ask politely at first, but then with each subsequent request we become
    more and more frustrated and irritable until we seriously blow our top.  Yet despite our escalating frustration we are
    not putting any negative consequences in place until the end, where frustration
    sometimes results in physical punishment.

    This approach teaches
    children that they can keep ignoring us until we are at our absolute wits’
    end.  It also teaches them that the only
    consequence that matters is physical violence. 
    This trains children to wait for external direction and stops them
    learning to be internally motivated in their everyday behaviours.

    This situation is a
    lose-lose for everyone involved. 
    Children receive no proper guidance and leadership from which to model,
    and parents feel constantly stressed about being ignored and anxious about
    inappropriately smacking their children.

    Instead we need to
    make a time (NOT in the heat of the moment) where we sit down with children and
    clearly discuss expectations around behaviour. 
    A crucial part of this discussion will be about negative
    consequences.  For example, if the toys
    are not put away immediately then the children will receive an immediate
    negative consequence like time out or removal of their favourite toy from their
    bedroom. 

    These negative
    consequences are always delivered dispassionately.  For example, ‘oh well, it was your choice to
    not put away your toys, so this is the consequence – just learn from this and
    think more carefully next time’.

    Children then quickly
    learn to take proper ‘internal’ responsibility for their behaviour and come to
    understand the limits on social behaviours, making them more socially skilled
    and competent.  At the same time, parents
    learn to take their roles as leaders seriously and they never need be
    frustrated again.  

    ... read more

    A NEW BEGINNING

    If there is one clear thing that I
    have learnt in over 20 years of clinical work at the Smart Therapy Centre it is
    this:  in the end, you are the ONLY
    person who can call yourself to account.

    You can lie and pretend to yourself until
    the cows come home but ultimately the buck stops with you.

    It doesn’t matter what others say or
    do.  It doesn’t matter how much they try
    to help you.  It doesn’t matter how much
    they try to penalise you.   

    In the end, it will be your
    commitment to changing problematic behaviours that will be the difference
    between success and failure.  Between a
    life where you feel capable and in control, and a life where you feel desperate
    and completely out of control.

    Now, think hard on this next question
    before you answer, because your life depends on it.  Are you prepared to go through another year
    of intense anxiety, panic attacks, depressed mood, loneliness, anger, heavy
    drinking, over-eating or unrelenting relationship tension? 

    If the answer is ‘yes’ then go ahead,
    change nothing and plough onwards without complaint. 

    If, on the other hand you are not
    willing to keep living with these problem behaviours then New Year is a good
    time to commit to serious change. 

    By serious, I mean longer-term.  Don’t just decide to change for a few days or
    weeks, but instead undertake to change for at least 3 months and then re-evaluate. 

    After 3 months, if your life is much
    improved (as it almost certainly will be), then re-commit to another lengthy
    stretch of time.  It only takes about 6
    weeks to change established habits so that you feel comfortable and relaxed
    with the new behaviour. 

    You may get the occasional urge to go
    back to old problematic ways but soon these urges are very easy to resist and
    in hardly any time at all it feels completely natural to behave constructively
    and in your own best interests.

    If nothing else, think hard about
    this idea today.  Don’t slide it out of
    your awareness.  Instead, identify the
    problem behaviour and commit to serious change. 
    It just takes one clear decision to start …

    ... read more

    Family stress at Christmas

    Although the weeks leading up to Christmas can be wonderful, catching up with old and new friends and celebrating with work colleagues, sometimes Christmas Day itself can be difficult and even heart-wrenching.

    This is often because families have
    old, unresolved wounds that can result in all sorts of tensions.  These tensions can be bad enough that family
    members become so alienated that they end up spending the day alone and lonely.

    More commonly though, when
    long-standing conflicts have not been resolved, there is sheer boredom and
    emptiness when families come together, simply because they have nothing they
    can talk about without causing a huge eruption. 
    Just like all roads lead to Rome, all ‘real’ conversation leads to
    eruption. 

    Therefore, topics become unreal,
    safe and tedious (often talking endlessly about the children) with people
    getting drunk to cope and falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV.  These are the sorts of hollowed out and empty
    relationships that occur when conflicts build-up and compound over time and are
    not resolved.

    But even with these tedious and safe avoidance
    strategies it doesn’t take much (maybe a little ‘barb’ or a nasty little ‘joke’
    inserted into the conversation) to be back raking over the coals of past family
    injustices.

    Unfortunately, what I frequently see
    in my clinical work is that people then start debating what did or did not
    happen in the past when they were 8 or 14 years old.  This debate of who did what when, and who was
    right or who was wrong, can go on fruitlessly for decades.

    Generally, it is best to resolve only
    current (not past) grievances and this can be done throughout the year (instead
    of Christmas Day) by talking through issues of conflict as they arise.

    Of course, it goes without saying
    that talks should always be kind and friendly and although they can become
    intense, they should always be highly disciplined. 

    In these discussions, people should never
    be personally attacked (like ‘you’re an idiot’), but any specific problem-behaviours
    (like sulking or harshness) can be talked through and alternative behaviours
    (like speaking up more or exhibiting more softness) can be suggested in order
    to achieve better relations.

    Interestingly, in solving the current
    grievances, the past ones are usually also resolved.  This occurs simply because problem-behaviours
    from the past are generally carried forward into the present.  Debating them in the present allows them to be
    clearly identified and described, making it more likely they can be resolved
    and eliminated.

    ... read more

    Desperate and unnecessary fighting tactics

    It may surprise you to know that bothaggressive people and compliant people are scared to death of conflict and tryto avoid it, albeit by using different strategies. 

    This is intuitive with compliant
    people who clearly shy away from conflict, but completely counter-intuitive
    with aggressive people who always seem to be getting into the ring to smash up
    others and themselves in the process.

    But what I have learned from my 25
    years of clinical psychology work is that it is precisely because aggressive
    people are so terrified of conflict that they do this. 

    Aggressive people try to decimate the
    enemy in one king-hit - going excessively on the offensive with the motto ‘kill
    or be killed’.  The more terrified, the
    more aggressive.

    In contrast, compliant people try to
    avoid conflict altogether by disappearing under the radar and pretending they
    agree, but meanwhile often harbouring passive, stubborn and bitter resentments
    that come out through nasty barbs and manipulation.

    Both aggressive and compliant people
    use their strategies because somehow in their formative years they incorrectly
    learned that other people are hostile to them. 

    It then followed that it is only
    reasonable for them to counter such (imagined) hostility by employing unfair
    tactics back (aggressive or manipulative) in order to get what they want. 

    But nothing could be less likely to
    get them what they want.  Aggressive and
    manipulative tactics almost always lead to dismal and pathetic lose-lose
    outcomes (with both parties smashed to pieces) because they reduce goodwill and
    cooperation from others. 

    Also, both strategies keep people
    stunted.  Both strategies stop people
    learning that conflict doesn’t need to be fought in the ring - it is a
    wonderful gift that can promote great future solutions to problems, as well as
    creating depth and closeness in relationships through rational discussion and friendly
    (albeit, sometimes intense) resolution of differences.

    ... read more

    What if… my anxiety comes back?!!!

    I find in my clinical work that when people get over their anxiety by stopping paying it any attention there is almost always a period a few weeks later where a scary thought threatens to derail their progress.

    It usually goes like this.  ‘Wow, I can’t believe how great I feel since I stopped paying any attention to my anxiety – I’ve had no anxiety for weeks … OMG!  Wouldn’t it be awful if it all came back again!!  I couldn’t bear it!’

    At this point people can become highly alarmed and start to hyper-vigilantly observe themselves for any possible signs of their anxiety returning. 

    They maybe start monitoring their pulse or breathing (looking for even slight increases) or notice if they have any feelings of dread or panic.  They might examine their thoughts or mental images to see if any are a bit on the ‘anxious’ side.

    Sadly, re-focussing on anxiety consolidates it in the brain and makes it easier to retrieve.  Before they know it, their anxiety is back again with a vengeance!

    Instead, be aware that the initial OMG! type-of-thought just reflects the normal human capacity to think laterally and with complexity.  When we have one thought, we easily then have similar, related or opposite thoughts, especially if we already had a well-established brain habit devoted to anxiety rumination. 

    All you need to do is be aware this might happen and then simply slide the ‘OMG! What if …. my anxiety comes back type-of-thought into your periphery and out of your focussed attention, giving it zero airplay time.  Make it clear that you’re certainly not going to fall for that old trick!  Then, engage in a constructive activity and keep enjoying an anxiety-free life!

    ... read more

    With just a little help and kindness...

    Often in my work I see couples locked into bitter hatred of each other.  It becomes vengeful with neither party remembering who started the war but both parties keeping on fighting it.

    I find that it nearly always helps to introduce a couple of circuit-breakers.  Firstly, I ask couples to simply do several un-solicited acts of kindness every week for their partner and, in return for the partner to acknowledge the act with softness, friendliness and grace.

    Then, I ask the couple to ban all bickering and poor behaviour (like sulking, ‘huffing and puffing’ in exasperation, being rude, yelling or inserting hidden ‘barbs’ into the conversation).  Instead, both parties must follow the rules, by communicating in a civilised, well-mannered, friendly and helpful manner – irrespective of how they are ‘feeling’.

    I emphasise that it is fine to disagree on issues, but both parties must try and resolve their differences through civilised and rational discussion no matter what.  It can be intense, but it must always be disciplined. 

    These changes in behaviour, almost immediately increase goodwill and start to open the couple up to listening properly and resolving big differences through reasoned and cooperative debate.  It makes all the difference to have a little kindness and help inserted into any relationship … 

    ... read more

    Button your lip about anxiety

    I have often talked about the importance of stopping paying attention to anxiety mentations. 

    But I know from my 25 years of clinical work that many people don’t realise that this means not only stopping an internal dialogue with themselves about their anxiety (like ‘OMG! I might panic if I do that’) but also stopping any dialogue with other people about their anxiety.

    So, to be clear, once you decide to embark upon quitting paying attention to your anxiety then that means that when others ask you how you are going you don’t respond with ‘Oh, not bad, but I’ve been a bit anxious lately’ or ‘I don’t think I could take that job – it might exacerbate my anxiety’. 

    Instead, no matter how you feel (which should not matter anyway because you’re not paying your anxiety-related ‘feelings’ any attention whatsoever) you say ‘great, thank you’ and then discuss constructive things you have been up to if probed any further.

    It doesn’t matter how unsure you feel or if you start shaking, sweating, blushing or your pulse races because you’re not paying any attention to these physiological sensations either.  You just keep right on engaging in conversation in a constructive way – no differently to how someone would behave if they had not a shred of anxiety.

    If you start discussing the ins and outs of your anxiety with others you will be reactivating and consolidating the very neural pathways that you wish to eliminate.  So, don’t do it.  Resist the urge for that bit of reassurance you would otherwise hope to gain from others.  It’s just not worth it.

    Remember though, that others might probe excessively about your anxiety because the relationship has been based upon you talking about it in the past.  Once you are no longer in the victim-role there may be a temporary lull in the relationship while you both find other things to talk about. 

    So be ready for this.  Even if you are asked specifically about your anxiety, just say ‘yeah, going really well thanks’ and then move onto something constructive you have been doing.   You can then follow up with, ‘and what about you?  What have you been up to lately?’  With partners or very close friendships, let them know in advance that there will be zero discussion about any anxiety going forward.

    ... read more

    Conflict is a gift to engage in

    I often find in my clinical work that people view conflict and subsequent debate as negative, hostile and rejecting.  

    But nothing could be further from the truth.  Instead, a recent large-scale study found that couples who freely argue, actually love each other the most.  

    So long as conflicts are handled kindly and respectfully (even if, very intensively) then they are gifts that provide rare opportunities to gain resolution.  Without such resolution we cannot progress relationships towards depth and authentic closeness. 

    Conflict also provides us with an opportunity to hone our skills at debate.  While this might seem trivial, learning to argue in an articulate and logical manner is crucial to operating as an assertive free agent and ‘finding our voice’ in this big, noisy world.   

    But there are also some other important gains to be found.  For example, when we argue, we demonstrate to others that we care enough about the relationship to struggle for solutions rather than just withdraw into indifference. 

    We also clarify and identify what we stand for (what matters and what does not matter) which helps us build a strong identity or sense of self. 

    It also teaches others that we need to be genuinely persuaded and that we will never be a pushover, which helps earn the respect of others (a crucial element of any relationship).

    Moreover, we demonstrate to ourselves and others that we are strong, resilient, non-fragile and that we can handle the full force of arguments being fired at us without having to be treated with condescending kid gloves.  We learn to stand our ground (in a kind and open-minded way) and not be intimidated.

    Learning to debate also helps ‘non-talkers’ become fully participating members of any group or within a relationship.  Finding our voice through argument helps stop the passively resentful behaviours of sulking, meanness, and withholding that tend to arise from feelings of victimhood and lack of input.  

    Needless to say, all of this extends our brain power, forcing us to think fast and on-our-feet while developing better logic and reasoning skills with better articulation of arguments.  So, don’t delay, start debating today!!

    ... read more

    Run your own race

    A huge mistake I have often seen in my 25 years of clinical practice is people making themselves miserable looking around at what others achieve and then paying attention to bitter, envious or self-hating mentations. 

    Remember, the more we pay attention, the more we instruct our brains to build neural synapses specifically devoted to these (unwanted) themes, ironically making them a bigger and bigger part of our mental experience.  This is how people become bitter, envious or self-hating - none of us start off this way.

    Instead, try to run your own race in life.  Decide the goals YOU want to achieve and then set about systematically achieving them, irrespective of what others are doing.  In other words, back yourself and run your own unique race.

    Of course, it is still important to stay connected to new developments that progress your ideas. However, this can be done without paying any attention whatsoever to the unwanted themes.  Constructively working with others, talking and reading about new developments in your area are great ways to stay connected, cutting-edge and relevant.

    If your focus is squarely on running your own race, any ideas you encounter from others are immediately related to how YOU could utilise them in your own specific agenda.  The focus is never on envy, bitterness or self-hate – it is always on running your own best race in whatever way works best for you.

    ... read more

    No dictator needed with assertion

     

     

    People who overuse compliance as a communication strategy are often very well liked.  They appear relaxed, calm, friendly and kind and they can frequently progress quite well in their careers because of these attributes.

    They are the sort of people who are often described as ‘my rock’ because they don’t make waves or contradict, and their apparent calmness soothes others who may be more agitated when dealing with the world.

    But this is the problem:  it is other people who are dealing with the world.  Compliant people are primarily withdrawing from the world, usually because of their ‘fear of conflict’ with others should they come forward to honestly interact and say what they ‘really’ think.

    The difficulty for compliant people is that to be able to function (while being withdrawn) requires finding other people who are willing to go forth and do your bidding; engaging with the wider world on your behalf.

    To do this, compliant people most commonly partner in their intimate relationships with people who overuse aggression as a communication strategy and then hope that the aggressive person will negotiate, agitate and protect their interests.

    Of course, this is a risky strategy at best and downright dangerous at worst – since it kind of relies on a benevolent dictator.  Yet we all know that dictators can be terrifying (see image above).

    While compliant people have been busy withdrawing and disappearing under the radar, they have never learned to calmly argue and persuade others of their views.  Instead at times of potential conflict compliant people tend to go quiet and passively resist, blocking any undesired outcomes.

    This frustrates others (who may then become angry and frightening) and stops compliant people from ever really defining and truly ‘knowing’ themselves, as it is mainly through logical argument that we define what we stand for or what we stand against.

    In contrast to either compliance or aggression, people using assertion as their main communication strategy would know that it is never too late to learn to argue!  They would come forward in a friendly manner (and not withdraw) while calmly and open-mindedly discussing issues of conflict with others.

    This provides vital feedback to themselves and others in defining exactly what values and views matter.  At the same time, it sets early limits on other people’s behaviour (by indicating they are not a pushover), while still maintaining a friendly and permeable basis for interaction.

    Most importantly, assertion puts an end to needing a dictator (even a benevolent one!) and allows direct, unfettered access to the world that is calm, logical and empowering.

    ... read more

    Be careful not to win the battle but lose the war

    Many people who are practised in using aggression as a communication strategy get a long way in work and life. This is because they are often highly motivated, proactive people who adopt a direct ‘can do’ approach and, unlike people who use compliance as their main strategy, they are not passive in going after what they want.

    But the biggest risk this type of profile faces is pushing for outcomes without first making sure they have genuinely persuaded others to come on board with them.  They mistakenly think when others nod and say ‘yes’ that this means it is a given, whereas others may simply be indicating that they are open to the idea, willing to listen or have partial agreement.

    Fundamentally the reason this happens is because people who over-use the aggression strategy have almost always been bullied in childhood and have responded (usually in adolescence) by learning to stand up fiercely with all guns blazing towards the perpetrator.

    Despite this bravado, it may surprise you to know that aggressive people are underneath, terrified of conflict.  This is because they fundamentally believe they will never get their preferred outcomes in life UNLESS they apply angry, escalating, winner-takes-all tactics. 

    This leads aggressive people to often use the one-punch knockout approach on their opponent rather than soft, lengthy, rational persuasion where outcome is based on the merit of the argument.  Deep down they don’t believe they can persuade.  As they see it, they must decimate the opposition before the opposition decimates them.

    In contrast, people who use assertion as their main communication strategy, never see others as the opposition.  Instead, they view all parties as being on the same side but with a problem to solve to the satisfaction of all parties. 

    In other words, until the solutions are win-win for everyone involved then the process is not yet over.  This reduces fear during negotiations as there is an ultimate assumption of fair and equitable outcomes for everyone.  (Even if this is not the case, it is best to operate on this assumption.)

    Assertive people are also very careful to ensure that others are genuinely persuaded and will ‘own’ and commit to any solutions.  This is because they know that if they ride roughshod over others it will inevitably result in lack of commitment, stubborn resistance and usually sabotage and trench warfare.    

    ... read more

    NOT FRAGILE – WILL NOT BREAK!

    One of the most common mistakes of parenting is treating children as though they are fragile and cannot cope with difficulty.  It is a form of over-protection that often occurs by parents who have been bullied themselves in childhood and who are determined to never do the same thing to their own children.  Instead, these parents flip to the opposite side of the coin.

    While it comes from a good place, over-protection sadly does almost as much damage to children as beating them on a regular basis, as it instils the same foundational negative assumptions on which children then build their brains.

    For example, if you regularly beat and bully children you teach them that the world is a dangerous place, that other people will be hostile and that they are powerless and to do anything about it.  If you over-protect children, you teach them that there is a dangerous world and that there are hostile people out there (both of which they need protection from) and you teach them that the reason they need protection is because they are powerless to sort it out for themselves.

    In the longer term, these negative assumptions then often result in exacerbated threat awareness, low self-esteem and fears and doubts about one’s ability to deal effectively with challenges.

    In contrast to this, it is important for children to meet with the real world and not be protected from it if they are to build great resilience.

    Sure, children and teenagers need discussion and guidance from parents about complex and difficult issues when they have not encountered them before, but these things teach them excellent problem-solving skills and a sense of agency and mastery when they successfully sort problems out.

    It is important for parents to simply ‘expect’ children to cope well with both challenges and adversity and generally they will.

    ... read more

    Help me make it through the night

    People often think that the key to successful long-term relationships is exciting, mind-bending and contorted sexual positions with sex toys and skimpy underwear.

    In reality, few things could be more alienating and devastating for a relationship and nothing could be further from the truth.

    The real key to staying in love with your partner over the decades (and becoming more and more ‘in love’ over time) is great conversation that sometimes leads to friendly, chatty, co-operative sex – not so different to sharing a great meal together!  Mutual and simultaneous orgasm pretty much always assumed.

    But this type of love is not so easy to come by.  It requires a willingness to see your partner as a real living human being and not an object to be bent into shape, derided or subordinated.  It requires seeing ourselves as on the same side (never as ‘the other’) so that success for our partner means success for us.   Central to this relationship is genuine equality and kindness and it involves being willing to share ourselves warts and all.

    To achieve it, we must be prepared to talk about the everyday things (like the shopping) and the hard things (like our conflicts and embarrassments) before, after and even during intimacy.  We need to have the courage to share many of our thoughts, even the unacceptable and conflictual ones and certainly all the brilliant ones (!) so that our partner can truly ‘know’ us.

    This genuine closeness gives us a very best friend who we can totally trust, and it helps us make it through the night during the times (we all experience) of fear, doubt, fragility and agonising human suffering.

    ... read more

    WASTE TIME AND TIME WILL WASTE US

    When we are young we think we have endless time and we are often told that we ‘can have it all’. 

    When we believe that our dreams are going to fall into our laps, it is easy to waste time on dead-end jobs and dead-beat people.

    But ask any 80-year old how fast their life went by and they will tell you that it felt like they were barely getting started and then it was all over – their life had flashed by in the blink of an eye.

    In my work at the Smart Therapy Centre, older people often reflect that they wish they had been more proactive and less passive.  They wish they had single-mindedly gone after their own agenda and grabbed more opportunities when they presented themselves instead of trying to fit in, conform and please other people. 

    Part of the solution to this problem is understanding that we have our own unique set of cards to play in life, so we need to keep our focus on our own pathway and stop wasting time looking at what everyone else is doing. 

    We also need to get started early.  In many cases it doesn’t so much matter which career a young person chooses but that they choose one and get on with it FAST, rather than spending most of their 20’s leisurely ‘finding’ themselves.  

    ... read more

    Don’t throw your career out with the baby’s bath water

     

    Having a baby can be a wonderful and joyous experience for many people, but a word of warning.

    In my work at the Smart Therapy Centre, I have noticed over and over again that women will often suddenly decide they want to get pregnant when they are feeling scared and ‘stuck’ in their career with no clear way forward.

    Rather than sort out the work strategy, women often go for the society-pleasing option of getting pregnant. The timing is generally not a coincidence, although women are usually unaware of this.

    While having a baby can be a fantastic experience for women - the pleasure can also easily wear thin.

    The reasons for this lie in our history. There were two major changes that occurred in the 1960’s that essentially led to the massive liberation of women in Australia.

    The first, was women being able to control their fertility (‘The Pill’).  The second, was increased availability of paid employment and legislation that ‘allowed’ married women to return to paid work.

    As soon as married women had their own income they immediately started leaving unhappy marriages.  Until then they had often been forced to stay and ‘endure’.  Following these changes, for the first time in history, more women left marriages than men!

    However, take away either or both changes and women are in deep trouble.

    I see this all the time in my clinical work: when women get pregnant and have young infants it is often very difficult for them to return to paid employment and once they lose their income they often (unintentionally) lose leverage and bargaining power that they previously enjoyed in their relationship.

    When women lose income power, they suddenly feel like they have to ‘ask’ for money which is now doled out at his discretion.  Women are often doing much of the drudgery work at home (which can lead to them feeling like servants) while he is able to keep interacting with work colleagues.  The romantic dream of having a baby has suddenly turned sour.

    What I observe in my work; is women losing confidence as they lose their work and social skills, while he is continuing to build his skills (having usually resolved any ‘stuck’ points in his career). These women often tell me they have nothing to talk about with other adults apart from ‘nappies and housework’.

    As a result, they can easily become isolated in the home, disempowered and afraid that they can no longer say ‘no’ to sex or he will become authoritarian with the money - so they ‘endure’.  With time, she can easily become more and more down-trodden, miserable and complaining and he loses his respect for her and gets meaner and possibly cruel.  A vicious cycle of inequality resembling that of the pre-1960’s emerges.

    This is a pattern that I have observed hundreds of times in my work and it is heart-breaking to witness it still in current years.  There are ways around it, but they must be well-planned and they usually require (unsurprisingly) equal time-sharing with the baby, reliable child-care, a quick return to work and the re-instatement of skills, income and the power that goes along with paid employment.

    So, next time you’re thinking about having a baby, examine your motives carefully just in case they are really about feeling ‘stuck’ in your career – because (trust me) things can get a hell of a lot worse very quickly!

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    Tick Tock Biological Clock

    In my work at the Smart Therapy Centre I have often seen women who can hear their biological clock ticking but have not yet formed the relationship in which they would like to raise a child.

    This can frequently lead to the missed opportunity of having children.  Now I’m not for a moment saying that reproducing is everyone’s cup of tea, and in fact, many people would argue that there are lots more important things to do in the world.  However, if you are keen for a little one to come along then please don’t make a common mistake.

    From what I have seen in my work, this error is that women take too long to ‘cut to the chase’ in each relationship they enter.  Instead they beat around the bush vaguely hinting at things like commitment, marriage and children, as though they are scared they will frighten their partner away. 

    Yet, usually the complete opposite is true.  Wishy washy unassertive people struggle to command proper respect from their partners who tend to wipe the floor with them and never feel persuaded to commit in any meaningful way.

    This means years can be wasted only to find out that he is not even slightly interested. 

    Instead, if you want commitment, marriage or children then say so clearly and be prepared to argue the case openly and early in the relationship.  If the issue cannot be resolved satisfactorily through rational discussion (where either you change your mind about children or he changes his mind) then move on FAST!  If all things fail, be proactive and stop waiting for the handsome prince to kiss you awake and instead get yourself donor sperm and raise the child on your own.  

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    The Sky’s the Limit

     

    People often talk about not setting high expectations in case people fail to achieve their goals and then end up feeling badly about themselves.  This especially occurs with children.

    In particular, parents commonly over-praise their children and reward them for very little productivity, to ensure no harm occurs to their self-esteem.  Likewise, teachers are often careful, especially when working with kids from difficult or under-privileged backgrounds, to handle them with care as though they are ‘fragile’ and their self-esteem will otherwise be irreparably damaged.

    However, as a clinical psychologist who has worked with thousands of people, my experience is very different.  In my work, if I want people to do well, I tell them that I expect them to do well and show them a clear pathway to achieving their goals. The higher my standards, the better they perform.

    This is similar to the high expectations seen in elite schools, colleges and universities which simply ‘expect’ their students to become the next generation of leaders in our country.

    On the other hand, under-privileged students or children from difficult backgrounds may be told the rhetoric that they can ‘have it all’, but this is rarely demonstrated to them by expecting them to perform at a highly competitive standard.  What’s more these children are often handled as ‘fragile’ which makes them grasp early on in life that they are somehow defective and could easily break under the slightest pressure.

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    When you leave - you have to take yourself.

    I’ve noticed over the decades in my work at the Smart Therapy Centre that people are often very quick to decide to leave a relationship.

    While there are times where it is definitely right to leave (for example, when there is the slightest inkling of violence), there are also times where people leave normal but difficult relationships prematurely or without sufficient self-reflection.

    This is probably because when things get hard we are all inclined to want to flee the situation and it is easy to see our partner as the problem that must be escaped.

    But if we reflect more on any problem we encounter in a relationship, there are ways in which we are both contributing.  For example, one person might be passive and sulky and never talk about or raise conflictual issues that desperately need to be sorted out.  Equally, the other person may be getting angry and yelling about these issues, but because of their escalation they are cutting off opportunities to calmly sort through these valid issues.  Both people are contributing to the lack of good communication and both people need to change to rectify the situation.

    When people just leave (and take themselves), it often results in them simply repeating the same patterns in every new relationship embarked upon.  When we locate the problem as being primarily ‘outside’ of ourselves (the ‘fault’ of our now ex-partner) then we continue with our own dodgy behaviour.  Of course, when we behave the same way then we are likely to evoke the same response in other people, setting up a predictable pattern of repeated relationship breakdown.

    It is not until we realise that we must stop emphasising the failures of others and instead focus on changing our own contributing behaviours that we can truly liberate ourselves from the misery of the failed-relationship roundabout.

     

     

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    Creating Yourself

    People often think they are ready-built.  No changes thank you!  Completed at birth.  Reflecting this thinking, we see that our society is full of clichés like ‘you should love me for who I am’ or ‘I just need to love myself more’ or ‘this is me, if you don’t like it then leave’.  These expressions assume an ‘intrinsic’ self (often claimed to reflect individual genetic difference) that we are born with and which is fixed or unalterable.

    The problem with this view is that it leaves us powerless to influence both ourselves and others.  You cannot change what is set in concrete.  It supports stubborn resistance.  It supports the idea that we lack control over our behaviour ‘this is just who I am so lump it’ as though our genes can somehow override us.  Most importantly though, it is highly unlikely to be true.

    In reality, our genes or any intrinsic ‘self’ has very little to do with how we behave, especially given that humans are 99.9% genetically identical to each other (yet we are not all behaving the same) and we share many of our genes with bananas (about 50%) and moreover we humans have fewer genes than your average banana!

    On the other hand, what humans do have is an incredible capacity to learn and build our brains in-the-moment, based on what we learn.  In fact, our entire personalities are likely created simply by what we have paid attention to, learnt, remembered and habitually practiced over and over in our day-to-day behaviour.

    This means that our personalities are largely voluntary!  Even when we are very old we can still change ourselves.  We can all create improved (or deleterious) versions of ourselves whenever we think it necessary.

    For example, if we like certain aspects of ourselves (like our friendliness or skills at dancing) then we can make sure we pay more focussed attention to those parts and practice them more in our behaviour.

    Alternatively, when we don’t like certain parts of ourselves (like being anxious, angry or food-obsessed) then we can decide to slip these unwanted mentations straight out of our attentional focus and not practice them mentally, instead shifting our attention onto an activity we want to strengthen in our brain (like remembering dance steps).  Very soon, our dance steps become a larger and larger part of our mental experience whereas our anxiety, anger or food obsessions become smaller and smaller until we lose awareness of them altogether.

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