The British people have shown great resilience over the last few days in coping with the Manchester bombing. For the most part they have kept true to their values and their way of life. We hear of Mancunians pulling together in the midst of the crisis, offering practical support, food, shelter, care. We read the story of a homeless man overcoming his own difficult circumstances and rushing in to help in the immediate aftermath of the bomb, we read of families offering bed and board to strangers who were searching for missing relatives. And whilst there are those who were quick off the blocks to stoke hate for Muslims and immigrants, the vast majority of people were having none of it. Our TV screens showed soccer fans holding a dignified minute’s silence at a match, and there were vox pop interviews on news programmes where ordinary people spoke out against hate, including hatred of immigrants and Muslims. There was also no shortage of Muslim voices saying “Not in our name” to any of their faith who were thinking of launching any attacks in Britain. It is clear that for some time members of the Islamic community have been co-operating with the police to identify threats to the people of Britain. Those of us who were in London at the height of the troubles will well remember the great Irish demonstration in Hyde Park when many thousands of Irish people said “Not in our name” to our fellow countrymen who wanted to bomb Britain. Back then, as now, the people who make up the great melting pot that is Britain dipped into their resilience and were not cowed by bombers. So what is this thing called resilience? It could be described as communities and individuals successfully adjusting to very difficult circumstances, through psychological, emotional, practical and spiritual means. One of the most important facets of resilience is the capacity for meaning-making. In the midst of the carnage in Manchester this week, and despite a small minority urging hatred, the community remembered what is important to them, they kept to their values and meaning, found solidarity in communal care, rejected hatred and continued to do what they always do. Resilience isn’t just continuing to do what we always do, it is also knowing the meaning, values and philosophy of life that drive us to continue.
Robert Redford’s son is a filmmaker and his latest film is called Resilience. Roughly it’s about the negative impact of difficult childhood experiences….which last a lifetime. He was inspired by research carried out in 1998 by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda into adverse childhood experiences. Examples of these range from witnessing substance abuse; marital breakdown; family mental distress; conflict in the home; being shouted at; physically and / or sexually abused and on and on. These create stress in children which they do not have the capacity to manage. They often have no safe place or person to comfort them. This creates a lifetime of difficulties including learning difficulties; anxiety; depression and on and on. Artists and Writers often develop this theme in their work. I just read an excellent book by J.D. Vance called Hillbilly Elegy which discusses this with great clarity.
Why am I writing this? Why am I exercised enough to do this? Because I am a Psychotherapist and have been hearing about these experiences for over 20 yrs. And I think that we need to be more vocal about what we know and not leave it to writers and Filmmakers.
I am not interested in Blame. However, given what is known about child development going back as far as Freud, Melanie Klein, Winnicott, John Bowlby to mention only a few, we could expand our influence further than the practice room.
The two areas we could increase our influence and stimulate thinking is in Education and Parenting. There are no perfect parents. We all falter and make mistakes but I believe that if every person who becomes a parent had an opportunity to explore their own experience of childhood and how it might unconsciously affect how they parent, that would be a good thing. We may have the best of intentions as parents but it is impossible to deny the unconscious where our repressed and split off memories lie. Parents need support. Single Parents need extra support. Where is it? What are the priorities of our Politicians? Helping the Property Developers get richer for a start. Come on Psychotherapists!
Here’s my list for today:
Decent practical support for all parents no matter what family configuration they live in …. they are minding the future.
Education …for parents, present or future, in schools, colleges, church halls, communities, articles and cultural events.
We are all intensely interested in reading about other people’s sexual lives and it is even more compelling to compare ourselves to what appears to be the ‘average’. On the one hand none of us like to consider ourselves average but there is a comfort in knowing that we are not as strange or weird as we might think. The Irish Times sex survey offers us a glimpse into the lives of our fellow citizens and compatriots in the western world and some of the results are surprising in that what we imagine to be normal may in fact be wide of the mark.
We often think, particularly when warning younger people of the dangers of sex that our world has become over-ridden with sex, porn and fantasy but this survey shows perhaps that we are having as much sex as our parents and grandparents. For couples who are together more than a year, the average amount of sex is once a week and it seems that most couples experience orgasm and satisfaction and they almost all rate trust and communication as vital to good intimacy. This sounds very sane and yet it can provide longevity as those couples who are in a relationship for over thirty years report having a good sex life. There is some truth to the maxim ‘use it or lose it’ and staying sexually active throughout life can keep us open to the world, engaged with the human side of us and keep us generous and kind. Habit can however be boring and it seems that men (and homosexual and bisexuals in particular) seek to keep the sex interesting and varied and this might be worth noting as desire and intimacy keeps us on the edge of life.
People report that talking about the difficulties appears to be the best way of solving them and this survey shows that dysfunction is not just an experience of aging but is common across all age groups. That talking and communication can improve your sex life is something that deserves consideration as many people would hesitate before discussing their intimate lives with friends or family and yet this might be the road to understanding and success. We often talk to our partners but can find that fear of upsetting or causing hurt can limit our conversations and so perhaps we could risk opening up to other people and we might find perspective and compassion there.
Also, the survey suggests that people have become more flexible in their sexual practices, with oral, anal and fantasy sex becoming part of the sexual fabric and the internet has become both a source for information and a sexual satisfaction tool for many people. The survey could have gone further here and investigated how much and what type of porn is used and what effect it has on people as individuals and on their relationships. That porn has become the hidden underbelly of modern sexuality is not in doubt but how this affects us and our choices would be a good subject for discussion across all ages. Most young people report having a reasonable relationship with porn in that they know it is fantasy and that real human beings behave differently but there are those who become obsessed with it and find that they are having difficulty with reconciling their fantasies with real life relationships. This can lead to hiding their real desires and the possibility of intimacy with a real person becomes remote as revealing the truth might bring shame and condemnation. If this is not tackled quickly then the habit can become hardened and it is more difficult to solve when the person eventually meets someone they want to be intimate with. So again talking and opening up at an early stage is the way to go but this might be a very difficult ask of a vulnerable person. Further surveys on this topic of porn and sexuality might allow people to feel more normal and less alone in their situations but we need information that is more detailed and varied.
The survey reports that the average age of the first sexual experience is 19 (slightly younger for girls) and this something that might take pressure off young people who feel their virginity to be a burden to be gotten rid of. Most teenagers report that they think the age of loss of virginity is much younger than this and this might offer some relief. Added to this is the information of the average numbers of sexual partners in a lifetime is also lower than expected (10 on average) and this might also give people time to allow themselves to experience this across the lifespan rather than trying to gather experience in a few short years.
That younger people report satisfaction in the sex education they receive is also heartening as this is new for Ireland and it might mean that there will be a new openness and lightness about sexuality that has not been available heretofore. However, with the onslaught of internet porn there is no doubt that we will need more knowledge and support than has been required previously. Having sex surveys that are done by an independent, credible source offers a wonderful alternative to going to the internet for information. However, we need information that is more in-depth as this merely whets our appetite for more of what is usual, normal and acceptable in our intimate lives. That there are many people and couples who have no sex in their lives need also to be acknowledged and their experiences and attitudes validated. Our sexuality in core to our being and it continues to be relevant for the entirety of our lives – this survey validates this notion and further research is needed as the complexity of our sexuality is revealed.
Over two thousand years ago a certain Pontius Pilate asked the question ‘what is truth?’ a hugely important question for so many reasons. In the current so called ‘post –truth’ era, it takes on a new importance and it behoves us to ask does truth actually matter?
I believe it matters in a fundamental way as it is the foundation of relationships, of States, of law and of institutions. If the opposite of truth – that is lies – is to hold sway then all our relationships, both personal and civic are in jeopardy. Not only will we not trust our loved ones and rulers but we will lose out on the security which that trust brings.
The problem for ‘truth’ lies in a subjectivism which often rules the day ie the idea that there is no objective truth and therefore everything that comes out of our heads (and mouths) is valid as truth. This is palpably not the case and yet we can act as though it is. The evidence is seen in the power of social and mainstream media which can peddle any sort of lies that can be picked up and believed by millions.
Many people report experiencing deepanxietysome of which may be described as a type of existential angst or dread. How much of that anxiety is caused by uncertainty and distrust in a world where we cannot rely on others by taking them at their word. At the deepest level of an ‘I – Thou’* intimate relationship, be it lover, friend, child/parent, much of who we are is to be found. It’s no coincidence that the grooming of children for sexual abuse is all about lies and dissimulation. The more we are disconnected from ourselves, the greater the vulnerability to abuse and destructiveness.
On the world stage the consequences of lying is seen in the destruction of nations and their peoples, in the injustice that binds many to the yoke of poverty, in the erosion of the planet through irresponsible usage and so on. The case for objective verifiable truth is essential for personal and collective well-being at both an existential and planetary level.
Truthcan encompass the objective scientific method of building on verifiable evidence as well as the inner subjective truth which is built on observation and experience. To distort the truth for any reason – be it egomania or the end justifying the means – never ends well. History, experience and hard facts teach us that lesson time and time again.
I believe we should be looking at teaching critical thinking, logic and the capacity to ask why in addition to what and how in our schools. We need to be engaging our youth with high level thinking which includes an understanding of the interplay between the intellect, will and our emotions, the ideal being the engagement of all three. Like a three legged stool, if one is missing, our capacity to access truth is compromised and the risk of being blind fodder for megalomaniacs increases exponentially.
*‘I and Thou’ – Martin Buber
Loneliness is a natural phenomenon that we all experience at various points throughout life: when we leave home, we have a break-up, someone we love dies, when our children leave, at retirement and in old age when we experience the loss of our friends and partners. We have a sense of the normality of this but loneliness can also develop into something permanent, a type of ever-present companion and this requires action and attention. Loneliness pushes us to move out of our self-protected spaces and urges us to make meaningful connections in the world. It involves taking risks as only genuine connection satisfies. Most of us have experienced loneliness in the middle of crowed rooms or indeed in the middle of pseudo relationships and we know that this is not what fulfills and ultimately it will not satisfy. The road to meaningful relationships and friendships is not an easy one and it will require courage, perseverance and faith.
Spending time with people is a basic step. Initially this might feel fraudulent as you are on the edges of the group but with time, the boundary of being on the outside become more permeable as acceptance and belonging grow. Say ‘Yes’ to any and all invitations as the practice of mingling and turning up for events becomes more comfortable and endurable. Ask people to events or coffee and initially make these short so that your endurance is not stretched too far. If we spend enough time with people and particularly if we do something for them, care and friendship arise naturally. If joining a club or group is too difficult, think of volunteering or helping out at an event. This takes the pressure off socialising as working together creates a natural fellowship.
Look at your living situation. Is it conducive to social living? We need to balance the need for refuge in our homes with the need for connection. If the people/person you are living with are not good for you, what are the possibilities for change? If you are living alone, could you consider taking a room in a shared house? There is no doubt that if you are lonely, something needs to change and this can start with your living situation or your social situation. The prediction is that many of us will live alone in the future and if we are to thrive we will need strong social and friendship connections and the time to foster these is now.
One of the factors of loneliness is self- consciousness or self-absorption. This is where all the attention is focused inwards due to fear of rejection or fear of being thought needy. If we are to overcome loneliness, this inward focus needs to be turned completely outwards so that we are open to connecting with others. Be interested in the other person, ask questions and let your intelligence tell you when either you or they have had enough. Be brave enough to ask to meet again and do not engage in post-mortems as going back over conversations only results in misery for you. Take the first step outward and begin the journey towards connection.
by Thomas Larkin
Panic attacks are rushes or spikes in anxiety. We get flooded with it. But the key thing is it comes from inside us, not from the outside.
People often come to psychotherapy saying ‘I get panic attacks but there is nothing to be frightened of’. They are right, nothing is happening externally to make them anxious. What we are afraid of is the appearance of the anxiety itself from within ourselves. We are anxious about being anxious.
We either grew up in an anxious household or we experienced something in our lives that made us frightened, such as a car accident or health worries or any manner of frightening experience. If these experiences remain unprocessed the anxiety stays with us.
The longer it remains unprocessed, the more anxious it becomes. For example, if we were in a car accident with a red car, after some time, we can react with a lot of anxiety to the colour red. We get a spike of anxiety from the part of us that experienced the accident.
Soon our anxious self becomes more anxious about more things as it seeks to protect itself. As a reaction, people often make their worlds smaller and smaller to avoid the anxiety, for example, they won’t go shopping. But the anxiety is within and it doesn’t matter what we stop doing, the unprocessed anxiety remains.
Psychotherapy for Panic Attacks
Psychotherapy is particularly effective for panic attacks. In the therapeutic setting, space is given to the anxiety itself and, as it becomes processed, we feel less and less anxious about more and more things. Until we reach a stage where our anxiety is the more natural alarm bell for real external danger.
As our anxiety goes down, confidence goes up in exact relation, the two are interlinked.
Thomas Larkin is a registered therapist with ICP, available at www.thomaslarkin.ie
Working with difficult people – what to do if you are in this situation:
By Trish Murphy
Working with difficult people is one of the certainties of life and it is well worth learning how to mind yourself in a situation such as this. The effects can be very serious and many people end up leaving work and struggling with confidence for a long time after such an experience. Most people try to manage the situation by speaking calmly and reasonably and are shocked to find that this does not work. They continue to try to communicate in this manner to little or no change and then resort to commenting about their difficult person to colleagues, friends and family. Initially it is a relief to sound-off about the colleague but it changes nothing and helplessness and frustration settle in. Often obsessive thinking about the difficult person takes over and it is hard to let go even when you are not at work.
It is worth having a look at the overall picture: The facts are that a colleague or boss can be both eminent and respected but may be a poor manager and are probably completely unaware of the effects they having on you and on your ability to work well. They may also think that threatening and belittling you will somehow get better results whereas in fact the very opposite is happening. Your reaction to this person can be full of fear, resentment and intimidation. Every time you try to deal with them you are communicating through your own negative emotions and the chances of them responding positively to this are almost negligible. If they are not listening or are totally lacking in self-awareness, it is unlikely that anything you are saying is getting through. Your frustration and dread rises and their inability to manage grows also – this is a very stuck situation
The reason most people do not take a disciplinary case against their bosses or colleague is that they fear a) that it will tarnish their own reputations and positions and b) there is a left over fear from school of being ‘the rat’. However, if you try everything and are not succeeding it seems pointless to continue doing the same thing over and over again. You need to have them listen to you and for that to happen you need to get their attention. Some people will not listen until they are challenged and though you may not want to be the one to do this, it is a fact nonetheless that this is what has to happen if the situation is to change.
It may be that they will only listen if there are a number of staff standing together in front of them; if they are faced with a disciplinary procedure or if their own boss or board challenge them. There is no doubt that everyone would benefit from the challenge: they would be a better manager, the organisation would benefit from happier staff and you would benefit from having stood up for yourself and demanded that you be treated with respect. The main cause of not taking such steps is fear.
Fear curtails our intelligence and makes us tense, withdrawn and negative. If it becomes part of our everyday lives it can make us bitter and small minded. No-one wants this. What you need in this situation is courage and self-belief but it is important to tackle this in small stages as otherwise it might send you into panic. Start by speaking clearly and strongly that you need the situation to change. Follow up with an email to keep track and verify your position. If there is no positive response, go to someone higher up and do not be afraid to use the organisation’s procedures. Your boss or colleague is not now and never has been in charge of how you feel – only you have that privilege.
In a world full of demands on our time it is important to give time to self-care. One way of doing this is self-soothing through music. This can be through listening, humming, chanting or singing. Music takes us in to the right side of our brain where our creativity lies and helps to create balance. Responsibility and growing demands on our time often leave us depleted. Music is healing and we can do it for ourselves. Join me.
We begin with breathing. Do you notice that when you are stressed your hold your breath? This exercise will help you to cope with stress and better address your anxieties. Breathe out and pull your navel in towards your spine. Let go. Your lungs will naturally fill up when you let go. You may breathe this way already. Throughout the day when you get a chance, breathe out. When you get used to it, you can pull your navel in more and make sure you get all of the air out of your lungs. The more air you are able to blow out, the more will go in to your lungs. One of the best ways practice this is by lying flat. We tend to breathe this way naturally when we are lying down.
Now make a sound when you breathe out. You can make any sound you like, it can be purring, chanting, gurgling our singing. You can make baby sounds. You don’t have to be a professional singer to do this. I believe that if you speak you can sing (except where you may have a medical condition). If you don’t do this naturally I find that it can be like learning how to drive, so many things to remember. Take it easy. One piece at a time. Practice a little at a time, gently. You need to be careful if this is new to you. Take it easy.
The rewards are wonderful. When you do this exercise it can take you away from the everyday stresses and bring you in to yourself. The deep breathing contributes to further grounding and relaxation. This way of breathing and singing works for everybody. If you are a singer already it will benefit your singing.
Music can be exhilarating and great fun. Maybe revisit nursery rhymes. Have fun. Also, we all have songs which touch us, bring us to places of wonderment. We can treat ourselves with these experiences. When you make a sound the vibration massages all of the cells in your body. The effort of making the sound and using your breath in this way is good for your lungs and your organs. You can pick out a play list for yourself to use as you go about your day. Sing along with your favourite songs and sing in the shower and the car. Beginning the day with uplifting music will enhance your wellbeing.
There are times when breathing like this and making sounds can bring you to a sad place. Sometimes we are afraid to explore those feelings which we have tried to suppress. Other feelings could be of anger or frustration or loss of direction.
If music brings you to a place where you need support and understanding Psychotherapy can help in working with feelings in order to get to a better place. The Psychotherapist can hold the fears and anxieties with us as we figure it out for ourselves. The work is non-judgemental and empathic. The quality of the relationship with the Psychotherapist and the feeling of safety in the room enables the client to move through the obstacles which prevent us from having a better life.
Safeguarding your emotional health and well-being!
By Jean Manahan
In an ideal world, where people are endowed with not only the skills and capacities to be great at their chosen profession but also with the moral compass to make right choices at all times, there would be no need for external regulation of any kind. Unfortunately this is not the world we live in.
As a result, we need professional associations which monitor the activities of their members through clear guidelines around training standards, on-going skills development, accreditation and a robust code of practice or ethics along with complaints’ guidelines.
Electricians have their association, the motor industry theirs, health workers, G.P.’s, dentists and so on, practice in accordance with their approved professional bodies’ guidelines. The difficulty arises when a voluntary code of practice is not sufficient to side-line those who are not approved for practice and who set themselves up as practitioners leaving an unsuspecting public at the mercy of either shoddy workmanship or practice.
This is where the State can intervene to provide an official register which reassures the public that those on the register are appropriately trained and have reached the minimum accreditation standard required in their profession. CORU is the State agency which oversees the registration of social and healthcare professionals such as Occupational Therapists, Social workers, Physiotherapists and so on.
In the case of the Psychotherapy profession, it is crucial that the public understand that, at present, therapists are regulated on a voluntary basis by their professional associations. Anyone looking for a psychotherapist should check that they are members of a recognised professional body. There can be an impression that the profession is unregulated. However, this impression is entirely incorrect.
The Irish Council for Psychotherapy (ICP) – a representative body representing the vast majority of psychotherapists in Ireland – supports the introduction of statutory registration in addition to the current voluntary regulation for the profession, mainly as a way of ensuring that only those who are appropriately trained and accredited are entitled to practice as Psychotherapists and to use the title ‘Psychotherapist’. In this way, the current, rather loose usage of the title will cease and the public will have more clarity as to who is actually entitled to call themselves a Psychotherapist.
Until this happens ICP would encourage the public to check out the credentials of anyone calling themselves a Psychotherapist. They should have a minimum of seven years preparation which includes a Master’s Degree along with four years clinical training. It would be surprising as well as highly unethical if untrained people could call themselves G.P.’s, for example. The same applies to the practice of psychotherapy.
The ICP website has an index of approved accredited practitioners and also a list of the major associations that regulate their members. The minimum standards of training for psychotherapists on the ICP register are in accordance with the standards of the European Association of Psychotherapy. They are accepted across Europe as the minimum entry point for practice. The public can find out more by going to www.psychotherapycouncil.ie
Anxiety is one of the biggest issues in our world and children as young as 7 or 8 are reporting stress in relation to their bodies, their popularity at school and their level of cleverness. Students in college are reporting huge levels of anxiety and the work place is now the location of stress, burn-out and related illnesses. If we are to stop the tide of anxiety we all need to do our own bit in managing our fears and then we will be in a position to help others.
Dealing with anxiety will require a many-pronged approach and my guess is that it will take some time to reach a stage where the anxious person will wake up feeling good. Many people are almost paralysed with the fear of the approaching day and it may be that they might benefit from a trip to their GP to see if there is some help they could get while they initiate the many things which may help them get control of their lives.
We were not born full of fear; in fact all of us were born full of confidence and motivation but slowly we picked up comments and experiences which led us to believe that we need to protect ourselves from others comments and from many aspects of life. Gradually, we think that this version of ourselves is the real thing and we try to mask this self to the outside world by pretending that we are OK and functioning. This is exhausting and as we become more burnt-out we can only mange short exposure to the world before retreating to our safe place, often home or our bedrooms. Becoming better at this is akin to torture and you sound as though you have finally had enough and now want to become free of these fears.
This anxiety needs to be tackled in the mental, emotional and social spheres of our life. Our fears are supported by beliefs and self-commentary that are negative, persistent and untrue. CBT cognitive behaviour therapy) has a proven track record in tackling these damaging thoughts and we might benefit from some sessions with a psychotherapist or look up the many supportive CBT sites on-line. Emotionally, fear creates a reaction in us that is primitive. We all know of the flight, fight or freeze response and in your situation this flight response has become chronic and is a reaction way beyond the need of the situation. We need to learn to calm ourselves in threatening situations – how to bring our physiological response to a calm place when it is over-reacting. Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are all practices that have developed quieting techniques that have 5,000 years of development. The concepts behind these traditions are simple, yet the practices are difficult so participating and learning with a group is strongly advised and the effects are slow-burning so give yourself a year of practice before evaluating your success.
Anxiety and fear make us back away from social situations due to the fear of exposure but the loss of support and comfort from others is not one we can afford to dismiss. Everyone knows what it is like to be trapped in fear and the sharing of our experiences with people we trust will garner us both sympathy and the push we need to engage with life again. Being honest and taking the risk of trusting others begins to tackle the blocks to our confidence and it has a high possibility of creating closeness and connection that will benefit everyone. Anxiety in our world needs to be addressed. When we emerge from our cocoons we will find that there is experience, knowledge and support available to us from all quarters of our lives. To quote Marianne Williamson from her poem ‘Light’ :
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
(Often said to have been quoted in a speech by Nelson Mandela. The source is Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, Harper Collins, 1992.)
Irish Council for Psychotherapy
29 Upper Mount Street
Dublin D02 K003
Tel: 01 9058698