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27th February 2020 

Thoughts About Life

Coping with life can be hard at times. Here are a few thoughts, phrases or observations to consider or focus on that may offer some food for thought, insight or comfort.

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain"
Vivian Greene

We spend much of our time waiting for something to change before getting on with our lives. Maybe we postpone a decision until a stressful time has passed, hope we will feel different when a milestone has been reached, delay that resolution until New Year and then …….

If you are struggling with a crisis or trauma, coping with a bereavement or relationship difficulties, experiencing anxiety, depression or low self esteem, getting on with life can seem impossible and this is where counselling may be of help and support.

Sometimes we are lucky and time does help, but more often we can't start to feel different until we learn to live our life right now - sun or rain. Having a counsellor alongside you can make all the difference. Being with a therapist who understands you and what you are going through doesn't change the reality, but it does make you less alone as you begin to make sense of what has happened. It can be the start of moving out of the storm.

Asking for help takes courage, but it might be what we need to avoid being buffeted by the storm of life.

Albert Einstein once famously said: "The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking".

We don't need to change the whole world, but sometimes making changes in our own world is exactly what we need.

They may be big changes or small alterations. The fact you are reading this suggests you may be seeking change.

Often we feel trapped by people or events that seem outside our control. While changing our thinking can not change events that have happened, we may find we can change the way we cope with them, or the way we understand ourselves or others. As that happens, so our world really does begin to change.

Vince Lombardi was an American Football player and coach. He believed "it's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up"

Of course Vince Lombardi was speaking about sport, but I believe the same is true about life.

Most of us face many difficulties throughout our lives. Some traumas are easier to cope with than others. Some we learn from, while others just seem to keep repeating - keep knocking us down, or even stop us from believing we can get up.

As a therapist I can't stop those knocks coming, but counselling can help you get back up again. As a counsellor I can help you to understand how to face those knocks differently, so that you are better prepared to dodge them, withstand them or get back up if they do come again.

Recently I have been thinking about a lot about self-belief. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." At first reading this sounds harsh and judgemental, but essentially it is all about self-belief.

Some of us are lucky enough to grow up knowing how clever and talented we are, that we are valuable, loveable, beautiful, a good friend etc. We develop an inner certainty that we are OK and as a consequence we can cope when failures come or we feel attacked or judged. We can consider the situation and accept or reject it without feeling diminished. We can make mistakes and still be OK.

For others this inner sense of value is limited, fragile or absent. We depend on others to show us our value or place our whole worth in one area such as work or a relationship. When the messages we receive boost us we can be Ok, but when they do not we feel diminished or without value. Sometimes we thought we had a fair sense of our own worth but something happens and our whole sense of who we are is shakes or destroyed.

No one actually consents to others making them feel inferior, but when our sense of self-worth depends on others, this is effectively what happens. Counselling can help us to build that sense of self-belief. We can begin to break down the barriers within us and learn to value ourselves. We can begin to recognise our strengths and to allow others to own their own failings without feeling responsible for them. Working alongside a counsellor, our self-belief can grow, and we can begin to take control of how we feel or respond, regardless of the way others try to make us feel.

Alice Morse Earle offers many inspirational quotes. One of my personal favourites is that "every day may not be good …. but there's something good in every day.

If you are feeling low, this may sound very trite at first. For people suffering with illness, bereavement, loss, redundancy, exam failure, depression, anxiety or any number of other tough situations in life, it can be hard to feel that life is good. Indeed, for this time at least, life may feel far from good. But this doesn't have to mean that every moment of every day is bleak. The concept of counting our blessings isn't just an old wives tale, research studies have found it really does make us feel happier.

Sometimes it takes an effort to remember that there was a parking space when you needed one, or someone held the lift door open, waiting for you. It could be a good friend sent a text just to say 'hello", or the bus arrived just before the rain started. Taking a moment to notice the stranger who smiled and wished you 'good morning' really could leave you feeling lifted. Watching the sun slant across a field can be a moment of beauty that will stay with you. It doesn't have to be a huge thing to lift even a very dark day - for a few moments at least. - but you do have to notice it.

There are many ways we can do this - perhaps taking time at the end of the day to sit and think about the good things that happened, maybe you could share 3 good things each day with someone else in your life. Hearing their good things could add to your own. Writing a gratitude list or journal can be surprisingly helpful. Even if you can only think of 2 things every day, by the end of the month you will have a list of 60 things that were good in your life - that really is a lot of good moments.

Looking for the good things can take as little as a few minutes, but could shine light into a day that may not otherwise have felt so sunny.

Alfred D'Souza is credited with the famous quote "happiness is a journey, not a destination.

One of the reasons people may choose to come into counselling is because they are unhappy in a way that seriously impacts on their life. Living with anxiety or depression can feel like being in a downward spiral. Struggling to come to terms with the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship or a redundancy can be overwhelming. If you are living in the shadow of a trauma of any kind, it can feel as if happiness is simply out of reach.

It is easy to believe it is only possible to be happy when we achieve something or gain something. We may believe we need to be with a particular person or be seen in a particular way to have any chance of happiness. There are times in life when this may be true, up to a point; but often the thing we seek will not be the elusive answer to happiness.

Changing the way we feel about ourselves or the way we view or manage our situation can be critical to feeling happier, but happiness is not simply the reward at the end of the road, it is a state of mind that can be found all along the journey, for periods of time at least.

Most of all, happiness can be found in discovering that you are worthy of being happy. Working alongside a counsellor can be a pathway to growing that sense of self-worth and opening up to the possibility of feeling happy.

If we focus on the destination too much, we risk losing the happy moments along the way and possibly lose sight of where the destination really is. Life rarely follows the path we expect, but happiness can be found on the journey every bit as much as in the destination.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said: "everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by it's ability to climb a tree, it will live it's whole life believing it is stupid.

As a counsellor I regularly meet people who have been, or who are, expected to fit one or more moulds that leave them feeling they are simply not good enough.

These moulds are often designed before we are even born. Maybe in pregnancy the new parents longed for a daughter, but had a son. Maybe the parents wanted a child who fitted into their life or routine and didn't notice the baby's need for a different type of day. Perhaps the parents valued academic achievement while the child is sporty and sociable but struggles with studying.

At school some people flourish in the exam based academic environment, while others may be less academic but more creative, visual, practical, physical learners.

A partner may have a fantasy expectation of who we will be rather than loving us for who we actually are.

If we are lucky enough to be around people who recognise and value us for who we are, we will be able to be like the fish swimming in the river.

Sadly this is often not the case and, however well intentioned, the message we actually receive is that we aren't good enough unless we conform to the requirements of others against our natural direction. As a result the world is full of 'fish' trying to climb 'trees'.

The consequence of this can leave us suffering from self-doubt, loss of confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem, anger, anxiety, depression, a sense of not knowing who we really are and difficulties in building or maintaining relationships.

Working through these feelings in counselling can help. With a therapist alongside you, it is possible to understand where these feelings begin and where the facts really belong. as you begin to understand yourself, so your confidence and belief in yourself can begin to grow.

Buddha is reputed to have said: "if your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete".

As a counsellor, I frequently meet people who believe that they are not valuable or loveable. They often have immense compassion and love for others, but are not able to be kind to themselves. Often, this is so ingrained, they do not recognise how hard they are on themselves.

Many people have grown up believing others are more important than they are and that to think of themselves is being selfish. They may have been told this directly or may have come to this conclusion when they found their needs were or are rarely (if ever) recognised or met, or that others always seem to be more important than they are. Many people have experienced trauma or abuse (often from the very person who they need to show them love and compassion), without having someone alongside them to acknowledge their pain and show them they really are worth so much more.

The consequence of this can result in a lack of confidence, low self-esteem, depression or anxiety (to name a few). The person may find it difficult to form or sustain relationships, or may repeatedly get into relationships that reaffirm their belief that they have little worth.

If this sounds familiar, counselling can offer you a space to explore these difficult feelings. with a therapist alongside you, in time you can learn to let go of the pain and trauma you have suffered. As you slowly learn to be compassionate towards yourself, as well as others, so you can start to recognise your own worth. You do not have to be alone, we can work along your journey together.

Princes William and Harry have been highlighting the importance of stopping the damage to our mental well-being that suppressing feelings and not processing grief and trauma results in.

Prince Harry has bravely spoken of the value he found, with the support of his counsellor, in learning to express feelings he hid from for 20 years. He has shared with the world the huge impact that 'shutting down' his feelings had on him.

Maintaining a 'stiff upper lip' is something that most people in our culture can identify with to some extent. We are encouraged to put on a smile, look on the bright side, remember how much others suffer, not feel sorry for ourselves, pull ourselves together .... The phrases are endless, but the message is much the same - it's not OK to feel and if you have feelings don't express them.

Our culture is slowly changing and you may be lucky enough to come from a family that encourages you to express your feelings and supports you to process traumatic experiences. Sadly, for most of us, however loving our family is, this is still not true.

Suppressing our feelings stops us making sense of them and coming to terms with what has happened to us. Instead we learn a way of living that avoids our own reality. Traumas come in many guises - perhaps you have suffered a bereavement, childhood abuse or trauma, maybe you are up in a household with depression, violence, addiction, frequent change, separation, loss, etc. or have suffered this way yourself. Perhaps your family wanted you to be someone you aren't.

We learn that our feelings must be wrong and perhaps even that we are somehow 'wrong'. The negative emotional energy that comes with these feelings, builds up inside us and will spill out eventually. It may be expressed as anger, depression, anxiety, addiction, eating difficulties, relationship difficulties, stress, self-harm, suicidal feelings, low self-esteem, reduced confidence or general health problems.

Counselling can help you to process these suppressed feelings - looking at them carefully, at your own pace, with a counsellor supporting you. In having a warm, accepting therapist alongside you, it is possible to learn to accept your feelings and express them safely. Learning to deal with your feelings can also help you to learn to accept yourself. As Prince Harry experienced, offloading and processing your feelings and traumas with a counsellor can bring positive change your life.