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The Risk of Social Isolation and Coping Strategies

As we are at the start of social isolation it is important to try (if possible) and view this as an opportunity to grow and do all the things we have been putting off. If we start off with anger, stress and anxiety, this will just compound as we move longer into the coming months. I recognise this will not be easy for people who have potentially lost jobs or businesses.

When we isolate ourselves from the world there is a risk that we turn to alcohol, junk food, drugs, binge-watching TV as our lives become more and more unstructured. When we are feeling down, we may find ourselves craving sweets or junk food high in carbohydrates and sugar.

Sugar does have mild mood-elevating properties, but it’s only temporary. Within two hours, your blood sugar levels will crash, which has a mood-depressing effect. Typically, we can descend into rumination, which involves dwelling and brooding about themes like loss and failure that cause us to feel worse about ourselves. This is a toxic process that leads to negative self-talk.  Turning to alcohol or drugs to escape our woes is a pattern that can accompany depression and it usually causes our depression to get worse. Now we have more time, we have more opportunity to do some form of exercise. The risk is that the longer we don’t build this into a regular routine, our brain will become less capable of initiating and getting us to do it.

What do I do?

Be mindful of and present for the thoughts and feelings we are having. We can be aware of our loneliness without buying into the idea that we are actually alone. Know that it will pass, try to understand how your emotions are impacting you. That, in turn, can help put things in perspective so you can challenge unhelpful thoughts that may deepen your loneliness. Be realistic and focus on the here and now. We should try to have a firm idea of what we will do each day, this will solidify expectations and help you feel more in control. Try creating new traditions that you can do solo or with your family.  Distraction can be helpful when it is done with the intention of giving ourselves a break. This should be part of our daily structure and we should avoid turning to avoidance which is a passive coping strategy to distract us from uncomfortable feelings, preventing us from getting to the root of an issue.

The worry for many people who are self-isolating is that they are going to become ill. They could also potentially be concerned about their family’s health and welfare.

“Every time we have a thought, we make a chemical. If we have good thoughts, we make chemicals that make us feel good. And if we have negative thoughts, we make chemicals that make us feel exactly the way we are thinking.” Dr Joe Dispenza

We should be mindful that we do not slip into a negative spiral. How we think, feel, and behave become our reality. We have to become our own ‘fire-wall’ to any negative programming from our past and the things we are doing in the ‘here and now’ that imbed that negative programming.

Every day, we should ask ourselves a few questions – ‘how can we be the best version of ourselves in every situation?’; ‘How can we build new belief in the possibilities of a new destiny?’ This will take work and consistency but it will be worth the time and time is what we have right now.

Here are three suggestions to get you started:

  • Mindfulness Meditation: This will help you recognise negative programming and help build that firewall. There are many good apps you can download to help you which will also have guided meditation to help you sleep.
  • Exercise: Any form of physical exercise will help to turn off threat centres in the brain and activate self-soothing centres. Physical exercise will help detach your body and mind from anxiety and stress. It will also help to burn off the adrenalin generated by the limbic system response. There are many exercise videos on YouTube that are free and very good
  • Structure: Build a structure for the day with a range of activities ranging from working on something with purpose, eating, exercise to getting outside or connecting with other people via phone and online. Gentle structure will help things feel more contained and less likely to fall apart.

If you are having trouble with this, try reaching out to a mental health expert. They may be able to identify barriers and solutions on how you are viewing things and can help you work through them.

Unsafe at home

As a psychotherapist I am seeing the majority of my clients online at the moment, however, there are some who are unable to meet online as their home environment is not a safe place. So, for theses client, I still see them face to face ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place.  There will be many people who will be more at risk spending more time at home.

If you do feel at risk, try going for a walk and contacting someone you trust, the police or a therapist.  I have listed some numbers which might help below:

Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge
0808 200 0247
www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people)
0800 999 5428
www.galop.org.uk

Men’s Advice Line
0808 801 0327
www.mensadviceline.org.uk

Rape Crisis (England and Wales)
0808 802 9999
www.rapecrisis.org.uk

David Lloyd

Psychotherapist

http://lloydscounsellingservices.co.uk

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Am I a Fake?

In my work as a therapist, I deal with many people from all walks of life, some who would be perceived as being very successful in sport, business and life in general. Many of these people live with the anxiety that sooner or later, everyone will find out that they have been faking it and everything will come crashing down – this affects their business and relationships.

My beloved wife who is a very successful businesswoman was asked to do a TEDx talk a year ago, the first thing she said to me was “who would want to listen to me? What have I got to say?” I sat with her and told her, her own life story from my perspective and we got to work putting together the15 minutes presentation. In the end we left many things out that I would have included but there was not enough time. I have attached the link to her TEDx talk below for you to judge if she had something to say:

On many occasions, I ask my clients to imagine what their TED talk would be and to imagine someone who is going through what they have either survived or trying to achieve in the audience and what they would say to them. I do this to help them see the value their lives have and the inspiration others could take from their journey

“I still have a little [bit of] impostor syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me.
“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know?

I share that with you because we all have doubts about our abilities, about our power and what that power is.
“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable”. Michell Obama

So, what is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or being a fraud despite evidence to the contrary. It strikes all people from time to time including smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment,

The phrase ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was coined in 1978. Impostor Syndrome doesn’t discriminate: people of every demographic suffer from feeling like a fraud, though minorities and women are hardest-hit. Studies found 20 percent of individuals suffer from imposter syndrome and although they do not feel capable, they still perform well when working.
Children may have developed it based on questionable parenting skills. High achievers may have it, never thinking they’ve done enough. Perfectionists who never think their work is good enough.

There are many reasons why someone could be living with impostor syndrome and while it is very real and debilitating, someone might not even realise that they are living with it. If you’re thinking about starting something outside of your comfort zone, you may be even more susceptible to it.

As I have said, I see this with my clients regularly. Though impostor syndrome isn’t an official diagnosis, psychologist acknowledges that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt.

Imposter syndrome feeds on our deepest fears and hears our doubts that we tuck away from others. If we don’t know the signs, it can negatively impact your professional and personal life and can keep us from connecting with others and growing our strengths.

What do I do about it?

First start by acknowledging it, call out these disruptive thoughts and feelings when they emerge. Once you know what it feels like and can recognise the “impostor” within you, you’ll have an easier time overcoming it. Make a mental note or better yet, write your thoughts down as they occur. It can be anything from “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve this man/woman” or “I got lucky with this” – having a bit of humility about yourself is OK, experiencing paralysing fear over it is NOT.

Change your thoughts and realise that what you’re feeling isn’t founded on anything real. Feelings of inadequacy and fear are all in your head and after all, who else but you made the successes you have had. Imagine how you’d feel if you could turn these thoughts into something positive. Don’t forget that when it comes to negative things, our brains act like velcro – everything sticks, even if we don’t want it to. Portative things are like Teflon, they slide off, we have to hold on to the positive a little longer to balance the way the mind works.

“Even though I had sold 70 million albums, there I was feeling like “I’m no good at this.” Jennifer Lopez

When I was younger I competed at an international level in martial arts. In my journey, I would compete in many tournaments, I would win all my fights and get to the final and my whole psyche would change and I would lose. I remember going back to my club after one of these occasions very angry with myself and determined to win my next tournament which happened to be the national championships.

I did not change my physical training but worked hard to focused on believing I was good enough to be a champion and yes, I won the tournament.

Me with my foot in the air

Take note of your achievements, while we may not be perfect, we certainly are great at many things. Make a list of strengths and take note of everything you are good at. You are not the only one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy. Find someone you can talk to, whether it be a coach, friend, or therapist. You don’t need to tackle this alone. You probably think you do since that feeling is another trait of impostor syndrome, but luckily you don’t!

With effort and mental reprogramming, you can learn to overcome your doubt and celebrate your accomplishments.

Take today as your opportunity to start accepting and embracing your capabilities.

“once you own your fears and embrace them, you are grounded in the strength of truth. You gain the knowledge that no matter what life throws your way, you can and will handle it”. Brene Brown

David Lloyd
Physiotherapist & Life couch

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Walking into a Karate club changed my life

When Bruce Lee died in July 1973 there were many programs on TV showing clips and extracts from his films. A film night special was shown which I was allowed to watch. I recall watching these and being amazed at the way he moved his speed and charisma.  No one had shown this level of ability and skill to take out the bad guys before. I wanted to know what it was he was doing, what was this kind of fighting called? I was 11 years old and my best friend at the time agreed to go with me to a karate club he had heard of which was local to us. Luckily for me, the club was run by Kuniaki Sakagmi one of the top instructors in Europe.

When I first saw Sakigami I was mesmerized by him! To an untrained 11-year-old boy he looked and moved like Bruce Lee. Sakagami Sensei was born in the city of Toyohashi, Japan, in 1944. He started training in Wado Ryu Karate in May 1959, aged 14 years, under Suzuki Tatsuo sensei at the Toyoashi Dojo.

Sakagami’s teaching style in the early years was very strict, one was not allowed to fidget in line or show any lack of concentration. I loved every moment of training with him and remember bugging him to show me how to do spinning roundhouse kicks. When he eventually gave me a demonstration, I was amazed at the flexibility and speed at which he moved. Skaigami was extremely keen and passionate about fighting which the club reflected as fighting was a big part of our training no matter what age or gender. There were so many good fighters at the club which was called Penn Karate Club, the fighting section of the class would last at least one-third of the lesson.  We would all sit around the edge of the dojo (club) then Sakigami would call who he wanted to see the fight and sit back and watch with a slight smile on his face – the fighting was always hard free fighting.

Penn had some of the top fighters at the time coming to train with Sakagami.  Whenever it was time to fight I would always stand up to fight these guys, they would take it easy with me and would always spend time coaching me, I think they liked the fact that someone that young was so enthusiastic to fight.  I have a vivid recollection of one Friday night when Sakigmi kept asking for people to stand up and fight – I must have fought 5 times in a row, he asked a 6th time and I was about to get up when one of the seniors pulled me back and sat me down. What I had not realised was that the person who had stood up was about to be put in his place by one of the senior fighters. This was done regularly to students who needed an attitude readjustment or who’s resolve needed to be tested in a tough methodical and obvious way.  Sakigami called this “hammering in the nail” and some years later that would become my job

Me on the right and Sakagami at the front

After a while many of the senior fighters and students left the club, some went on to start their own successful karate federations, some went into bodybuilding and there was a period of transition with many students coming and going but the club remained true to its fighting traditions. I started to compete all over the UK at a young age, I found I was quite good and could hold my own with fighters a lot more advanced in grade and age than myself. My fighting abilities were honed in due to the amount of fighting we did at Penn and the fact that the fighting was free fighting (hard fighting). The only problem I found was that it took me a while to find my control hence in the early competitions I did get disqualified a lot for excessive contact, which seemed to get the nod of approval from Sakigami and the other instructors at the time.

After a while, Penn built a strong fight squad with a reputation for good hard fighters. I was made the captain of the squad, something I will always be proud of.  All of the squad adopted the philosophy of ‘never a backward step’ and were extremely respectful. Many of the squad were well known around Wolverhampton as gang members or at least were the main rivals to the most notorious gang in Wolverhampton, needless to say, they could handle themselves in the streets and were a great deal more experienced than me when it came to the real deal.

Training became part of who I was, the training was always hard and would and continues to set the tone for my approach to training in the future.  My training mostly consisted of a 3 mile run every morning, then weights and bag work. Every Tuesdays I would go to the club when I had a free lesson and would spar with whoever would turn up, this would typically work out to about 2 hours of sparing.  Fridays were formal lessons with Sakagami, which would normally end with free fighting. Sundays would be the full fighting session, starting with a 5 – 8-mile run, including sprints and exercises, we would get back to the club and fight for an hour then end with an hour lesson.

Crystal Palace 1983

Cyrstal Palace 1983

My first International competition was representing the UKKW in the 1984 World Championships Japan. The trip was led by Tatsuo Suzuki and Masafumi Shiomitsu. This was well before all of the Wado Japanese Instructors went their separate ways  – a very strong senior instructor line up!

The trip was in 1984, we stayed in a hotel in the province of Shinjuku Tokyo, we were treated extremely well throughout the whole trip, this was due to the fact the Suzuki was so widely respected.

We arrived in Japan a week before the World Championships, the squad trained every day at a local park and also trained at a number of top Tokyo Universities, one of which was Nihon University. Two of these training sessions I particularly remember – the first was with the Japanese fight squad and many other senior Nihon university students as well as the England, Irish and Canadian teams who were in attendance. The class lasted for approximately 3 hours and was non-stop.  It started with hard basics then onto combination techniques and flight training. Many of the foreign students who were training struggled to cope with the humidity and intensity, in fact, some of the Canadian contingents had to stop. At one point, I thought I was going to pass out  – my ears had popped and my vision was blurred but luckily for me, I made it to the end.  What we didn’t realise was the Japanese students were allowed to excuse themselves during the lesson and take a break for water and use the bathroom. We did not notice this happening while we were training but only found this out after the training session had finished.  I think we gained a lot of respect from the Japanese that day for how hard we had trained and the fact that we did not take a break.  After the lesson, the Students brought tables and chairs into the dojo as well as food and drink. We had some great food and probably too much beer.  The Japanese students then decided to sing their club fighting song which was accompanied by actions and movements such as punching and kicking to coincide with the words of the song. It was extremely impressive.  Not to be outdone, the England team then decided sing our song although we did not have a squad song, so we gave the Japanese students a rendition of the hockey pokey, changing some of the words to – ‘put your Gyakuzuki (reverse punch) in and your Gyakuzuki out, and your mawashigeri (roundhouse kick) in and your mawashigeri out’, you get the drift. The Japanese students seem to appreciate what we were doing albeit we did get a few strange looks from the Irish and the Canadians.

The second lesson that stood out for me, was again at Nihon University. It was a lesson with Jiro Otsuka. The lesson focused on Basic technique with a great deal of time spent on body positioning.  We also looked in-depth at ‘kata’ and I remember Otsuka Sensei focusing on our awareness, especially that it is not just on what is in front of us, but all around, above and below.  The lesson was very good but this was not the only reason it stood out for me.  The other reason it stood out was the demeanour of Tatsuo Suzuki, who was the only one walking around in tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt and not paying any attention to the class.  The talk was that he should have been the one to take over from Hironori Otsuka and it was clear that he saw himself as more senior and to be honest all the Japanese senior instructors who were there gave him that respect. At the end of the session we were all talking and getting ready to go to the showers when I looked behind me and saw Suzuki start to do push-ups  – this stuck in my mind!  I carried on talking to many of the students for quite a while then decided to go and get changed when I looked around again Suzuki was still doing push-ups. I remember thinking and admiring the fact that even though he was not a young man, he was a force of nature!

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after the lesson with Jiro Otsuka

The world Championships itself were well represented and although this was my first international competition, I felt very confident in my ability and looked forward to my fights. All of my fights turned out to be against Japanese fighters and I managed to get through to the quarter-finals relatively smoothly. Most of the Japanese fighters would attack extremely aggressively with a blitz of punching techniques in a straight line and if you hesitated, you would be run over! I found that counterpunch worked well and my head kicks also scored well.  At quarter-final stage, I lost to one of the Japanese team, to this day I do not know how I lost. Don’t get me wrong, experience has shown me that in karate competitions there can be some very strange decisions and you just have to suck it up but at the time I was still a brown belt and one could not help but feel that me beating Japanese students senior Japanese students did not go down very well. The tournament itself was very well run with some amazing demonstrations.

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After the tournament, we spent a great time touring around Japan, led by Mr Shiomitsu. Due to the respect that Suzuki was held in we seem to have access to many things others did not. We visited the police headquarters in Tokyo for example and I remember going into the control room where there was a large map of Tokyo on the wall where lights were showing any incidents that were happening in the city. We were all shocked at how few lights were showing on the board – had that been in London police headquarters it would be flashing like a Christmas tree.

The police headquarters also had one floor dedicated to martial arts training and we were given a demonstration of many martial arts which was very impressive. Most of the demonstrations were of traditional arts but there was also a baton demonstration which was more grounded in reality.

Tokyo Police Headquarters

One of the fun moments of the trip was when we performed a karate demonstration to a Japanese school outside of Tokyo. It seemed and felt strange giving a karate demonstration to Japanese students but we were treated like film stars and being asked for our autographs. o  We got to see a great deal of Japan in such a short time and I have to say that Shiomitsu ran it like a military operation with us moving from one location to the next in a timely manner – never allowing us to be late. There are many stories I could tell from this trip but the final one I will mention is when we visited a Buddhist monastery. The monastery was on the outskirts of Kyoto. The welcoming Buddhist monk greeted us and offered to feed the squad and after food, we were asked to meditate in the temple.

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Police demonstration ash their headquarters

After Japan I represented the UKKW England team in many competitions throughout Europe and again in Japan in 1994. The team was very strong and we won many European medals. I have some amazing memories and experiences from this time and competed with some great teammates: Arthur Meek, John Weeks, Conroy Wattley, John Bernard, Ashley Williams, Paul Jones, Keith Walker to name a few.  I was 37 when Sakagami asked me if I would take on the AIWAKAI / Wado Kai national team coaching role full time, which I was happy to do. It was clear that I could not compete as well as be the coach, so it was time to hang up my competition Mitts.

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European Championships

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Japan World Cup 1994

Black belt Grading

In 1986 I took and passed my 1st Dan – this was 13 years after I had started training. The reason I took so long to take my Dan grade was, to be honest, I was not that bothered about it. I was teaching at my club with the other senior instructors and fighting internationally, the culture of Penn Karate Club was one of ability first, grade second.  Sakagami Sensei took me to one side and said it was time, so, it was time! The first time I took the Dan grade was in Tatsuo Suzuki’s Dojo in London and on the panel was Tatsuo Suzuki, Masafumi Shiomitsu and Sakagami. I felt that I performed well with no problems, in the free fighting I had fought 4 fighters and knocked them all down, which seemed to please Tatsuo.  At the end of the grading, I was told I had failed! This was not a shock to me as we were always told in the club that failing your first Dan was part of the test – to see how you would react, plus, I think this was Sakagmi’s way of putting my feet back on the ground! Four months later I re-took my Dan grade in Brighton and passed.

Club black belt induction

The Sunday after I passed my 1stDan, I went to Penn club and traditionally if you passed your Dan grade you would fight everyone in the club and I was no different, in fact, many made special effort to be there. There were at least 30 to 40 students and instructors to fight! Penn being Penn, you were expected to fight them more than once – at least twice! Needless to say at the end of it I found it difficult to stand up and was absolutely battered, blooded and bruised.  Once the class was over I was taken to the local pub where it was a tradition to drink whatever you were given. I drank far too much alcohol, this on top of being dehydrated after the session and not being a drinker did not do me any favours. I was left outside my Father’s house clasped on the floor, It took me at least a week to recover.

Leaving the nest

I progressed steadily through my Dan grades eventually reaching the level of 5th Dan in 2003. During this process, one of the main senior instructors at the club was becoming more and more agitated with me, my progress through the grades and as an international fighter. I never showed him any disrespect and although I had become a senior grade to him, always treated him as my senior. He had started to talk about me to senior instructors in Awakai saying I was disloyal to Sakagami, I kept my head down and said nothing, thinking that by my actions I would prove myself.  This all came to a head during one of the classes when the instructor stopped the class and asked everyone to sit down, and then asked me to stand and face him to fight.  I knew this was going to be a full-contact affair and I was conflicted as to how to handle it.  He started throwing punches that I parried and avoided, each one could have knocked me out. I was struggling to engage because of the respect I had for him, then he threw a kick to my groin which caught me on the inside of the thigh, at this point I knew I had to engage. The next thing he did was sweep my front leg, I span round with a uraken (back fist) and broke his nose.  There was blood everywhere down his gi, but he kept on coming and I kept knocking him down with sweeps but did not follow up when he was on the floor. Eventually one of the other senior instructors called a stop to it.  This was the catalyst for me to start my own club! I did this after speaking to Sakagmi and other senior instructors who gave me their blessing.   The lesson I took forward from this experience was that as a teacher, you don’t have to be better than your students – it’s your job to make them better than you!

Learning Another way

While continuing with my Karate training, I started to train with practitioners of other arts. It quickly became very clear that I had weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge. My long and medium (kicking, punching range) fighting was good, I found I could hold my own with any other style’s/arts in sparing.  When it came to short, close range (hooking, grappling range) as well as handling or dealing with weapons, I was falling very short. I started to look for something or someone who could help me develop these skills. I wanted a more practical rather than the classical approach.  I was recommended to speak to someone called Dave Atkinson who is a teacher of Jeet Kun Do (JKD) and Kali. I had always been interested in JKD as I had read many books and articles, especially the article Bruce Lee wrote in Black Belt Magazine in 1971.

Cover of Black Belt Magazine 1971

I called Dave and we agreed to meet at his club on a Sunday afternoon. Dave is and was a teacher of Jeet Kun Do concepts, Escrima, Wing Chun, and coached Muay Thai. Dave’s brother, John was European Maui Tai champion at the time and had a stable of strong fighters. I had read a lot about JKD and was very interested in learning its approach to training, teaching and fighting. The training with Dave was everything I had hoped it would be and much more. Dave’s style of teaching was all-inclusive, he would download so much information and every lesson would be tailored to my needs (strengths and weaknesses). I would always leave with a headache, when I got home I would write down what I had learned making notes to myself as to how I could incorporate this learning and where I needed to focus. I still use the same notebook today.

Dave Atkinson

Dave, his brother and their fighters would work the doors at a lot of Wolverhampton nightclubs so, the teaching was put to the test in many real situations. As with all the best teachers I have worked with, Dave is a very humble and positive spirit, there is always a calm presence around him.  I would not say I became an expert in any of the above arts but what I did was to take what I needed and what worked for me.  The training also allowed me to re-look at my classical karate training more objectively to fully understand what attributes and skills it had given me through my years of training and also what weaknesses/gaps it had.  Dave was my teacher for approximately 15 years but I lost touch with him when I had to work away from home. I continued to train with other JKD and Kali students to keep developing my knowledge and skills. I also tested my skills against other arts and styles in fights and challenges. Dave and I reconnected when he came to my 50th birthday party and now Dave is a regular guest at my home.

Conclusion

I know the article was a little long but I hope you found it interesting. The above are just a few of the amazing experiences and friendships Martial arts has given me.  I will forever be grateful for the people who have contributed to my story. The level of confidence, self-awareness and social skills have been invaluable to my life’s journey.

As a psychotherapist, I continue to want to help people to reach their full potential. As well as my individual clients I now deliver training that incorporates Psychology, Martial arts and Mindfulness to Leadership teams and corporations as an alternative way of looking at themselves and the people they work with.

In your journey, keep an open mind, work hard and enjoy the ride.

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Why Mindfulness?

In my capacity as a psychotherapist, I work with many people suffering with Anxiety, depression and many other cognitive issues that destabilise or unbalance their lives. One of the tools I use and recommend is Mindfulness.  I have been trained in this and also practice it myself approximately 4 – 5 times a week.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in mindfulness with widespread media coverage – the question is why? Over the last 2 decades people / society have been heavily focused on external stimulation and external achievement to find satisfaction and significance.  All too often we find these achievements wanting, any satisfaction is short lived and we are still left with the emptiness we started with. This drives us to look for greater achievements or stimulation hoping that this will then fill the void. I believe that we do this because we have lost the capacity to allow ourselves to feel significant, happy and content. I do not say that external achievement is not important but it becomes meaningless without internal acceptance of self.  Mindfulness is a simple tool that can help start to address any imbalance in ourselves. This is why I believe it is becoming more and more popular.

“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.” ― Eckhart Tolle, 

Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them, without believing for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future.

Studies found that, after just a few weeks of training and practicing mindfulness meditation, this helps our:

  • immune system
  • ability to fight off illness
  • quality of sleep
  • increases positive emotions
  • reducing negative emotions and Stress
  • fighting depression.
  • improves the density of the part of the brain matter linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.

Scientific evidence shows that mindfulness changes both the brain and the body’s production of hormones and other chemicals that impact our physical health.  Many in the scientific community are saying that mindfulness leads to non-judgmental and non-reactive acceptance of experience, which is associated with positive psychological and physical outcomes.  Using brain imaging tools, scientists have shown that the threat response, which begins in a region of the brain known as the amygdala, is calmed in meditation. In essence, the reactive fear centre(fight or flight) of the brain shrinks and the more thoughtful response centre of the brain grows.

There is a part of you that is Love itself, and that is what we must fall into. It is already there. Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment, you will realize you are drawing upon a Life that is much larger than your own and from a deeper abundance.” – Richard Rohr

An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. We also heighten our awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen in the moment.  Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. Standing back from our thoughts we start to see patterns. Once we recognise these patterns we can train ourselves to realise that our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are something we do but not who we are. We are not our thoughts – simply put, they do not have to control us.  Once we have recognised the patterns, we can interrupt them by detaching from the thinking mode and moving into the observing mode. In the observing mode, there is no need to try and stop the thoughts, emotions, and feelings, and we can allow them to play out naturally and ultimately detach from any negative loops we observe ourselves in.

Practising mindfulness is not, in itself, difficult which is one reason I believe it is so popular. The difficult piece for us, is remembering to be mindful – our minds can become so absorbed in their usual ways (patterns)  of working that we totally forget the possibility of being more mindful. And, even if we remember, the mode of mind in which we usually operate can resist the shift to a different mode.

There are many good mindfulness mediations you can use on YouTube and also some very good apps you can use.  I use a combination of both, the app I use most is called ‘Calm’ which is very easy to use and it also has sleep stories, music and a lot more good stuff!

I hope this article helps with a greater understanding of mindfulness and how/why it can help.

David Lloyd

Psychotherapist

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Does forgiveness mean reconciliation?

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behaviour, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”
― William P. Young, The Shack

I am a huge fan of Paul Young’s books but also his presentations on ‘YouTube’ about his life and philosophy.  The quote above cuts to the heart of many conversations I have when I’m counselling clients who have suffered abuse and who feel betrayed by people they trust.

In most cases emotionally broken people tend to inflict their brokenness on others. Many who have been sexually abused become the abusers, those who suffered under parents who are alcoholic often cause their own family to suffer the same fate. Those around us become the recipients of rage because they have unknowingly become the vicarious recipients of transferred rage. We carry others broken pain and blame ourselves, we feel there is something wrong with us. Ordinary observations are often misinterpreted to mean something negative towards us, our emotional pain causing us to suspect wrong motives or evil intent behind other people’s actions, destroying our ability to trust. I have been in situations with clients who 30 years after suffering abuse, flinch if I move too quickly in my chair. This is a virus that we have caught from others and if not cured will not only kill any happy future we could have but also the ones closest to us.

So, what is the cure?  Forgiveness! The pain we suffer at the hands of others is not deserved and should not be carried as guilt, shame or anger, this is not the state of mind we should be in. It stops us from letting genuine friendship, love and gratitude into our lives. We deserve, self-forgiveness! Often, we struggle with the word forgiveness, and rightfully so. We do not want the people who made us feel this way think it is ok. We need to choose not to spread the brokenness they gave us to others and make our own condition worse. Hanging on to the anger and resentment will just be transmitted back into yourself and others around you.

What am I saying? I am saying that we should not carry a burden that is not ours to carry – release yourself and be free from it.

Reconciliation is something different entirely.  Reconciliation is choosing not only to forgive but to take a step further and begin to trust someone again.  It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two active participants to reconcile. Forgiveness for past wrongs however, does not guarantee a future relationship. Forgiveness does not equal total reconciliation- it is not always wise to let everyone back in.

Sometimes in life, we learn that certain people are toxic to us. Actual reconciliation requires that both parties are actively working for the good of the other person and the good of the relationship. You can forgive people, but you cannot force them to make that effort. And, if you do not feel you can and they won’t, then that is ok and more than likely healthier for us as long as we have forgiven ourselves and not carry all that negative emotion around.

We need to start to value ourselves regardless of the brokenness we have been carrying and are now letting go. Our self-worth is our own point of view. By changing our mindset, we will build self-esteem. Most importantly, know that we deserve to be a confident, happy people. Recognise our progress and be persistent – Permanent change takes time!

We are worth it.

David Lloyd

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Self Destructive Behavior

My Father who raised my brother and I was a heavy smoker and due to his smoking, he was rushed into hospital and needed an operation to remove one of his lungs.  He recovered from his operation determined to stop smoking but before long he was smoking again despite all the warnings! Unfortunately, he passed away about 16 years ago and of course,I still miss him.   Why do we continue to over-eat, smoke, drink excessively, shop compulsively and engage in a variety of other activities that are detrimental to our health and well-being?

Self-destructive behaviour typically starts with a negative belief about yourself. You aren’t happy with the way you look. You don’t think you’re intelligent enough. You don’t feel worthy of love and so on.

These beliefs are often formed during childhood and can be indirectly communicated to us by parents, peers and society. We internalise these messages which begin to affect all of the decisions we make about ourselves and the world around us. We may not be aware of it, we unconsciously seek to punish ourselves for our perceived inadequacies.

Self-destructive behaviour can provide temporary relief from uncomfortable emotions. At first, this does not seem to make sense – Why would you hurting yourself make you feel better?   Take, for example, a woman who was bullied at school. She learned to dislike herself and developed social anxiety and as a way of coping and avoiding certain feelings, she begins smoking. Smoking significantly numbs her, reducing her anxiety and enabling her to deal with daily stressors. Though the cigarettes are damaging to her health, the immediate relief she receives is enough to outweigh any potential long-term negative consequences. Once she has created the habit, smoking becomes not just a way of dealing with anxiety but also a way to celebrate success! All of this can mask the original reason for starting.

What can I do?

Knowing where to begin seems to be the most difficult part – do you change the behaviours first and see what emotions come up or do you explore the root cause of the self-destructive behaviour now and worry about changing the patterns later? Well, the answer is both.  You must address the belief and behaviour simultaneously to affect lasting change.

Though it may be unpleasant, I encourage you to open yourself up. This is more easily done when you apply the principle of “no blame, no praise.” Do not attach positive or negative value to what you discover. Simply allow it to reveal itself to you.

Look back at when the self-destructive behaviours began. See what thoughts and feelings emerge. What was happening at the time? What decisions did you make? Discovering what was there in the past will give you greater ability to make healthier choices in the present.

In childhood, we have a limited way of dealing with negative experiences and emotions. We all did the best we could with the information and resources available to us at the time. As an adult, you now possess greater insight, knowledge and skills. You have the power to choose healthier ways of coping.

One way to change behaviours you don’t like is to find the positive intention behind the behaviour. Assume there was a good reason why the particular behaviour developed. Maybe it helped you avoid feeling anxious. Maybe it allowed you to ignore something you didn’t want to deal with. Maybe it provided you with a sense of power.  After you identify the positive intention behind the behaviour, take a few minutes to brainstorm new, current ways to accomplish the same intention. Make a list of 3-5 things that you can do now, instead of the old behaviour, and pick the one that feels right to you.

You can do this with a therapist or a friend you trust and respect.  The next time you feel yourself slipping into a pattern of self-destructive behaviour, stop! You can consciously choose a new way of being in the world.

What decisions will you make today?

David Lloyd

Psychotherapist

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Impacts of childhood abuse

As a father of 5, I like all parents think I can protect my children from the predators that are out there but the painful truth is that is not always possible.  The problem is that most abusers are people we would not expect and, in many cases, they do not understand that what they are doing is abuse. The problem is that the serial abuser is extremely good at hiding what they do. The typical stages of grooming are:

  1. Targeting the child
  2. Gaining trust
  3. Filling the need
  4. Isolating the child
  5. Sexualising the relationship
  6. Transfer of responsibility

The above list is calculating, very frightening to us as parents and for the victims, the impacts are long-lasting.   In my work as a Psychotherapist, I have worked with many of my clients who have and are living every day with the impact of childhood abuse.

How can the abuser do that?

This is a question I ask myself every time I hear about childhood abuse on the news or from my clients.  Studies have shown that abusive people find it easier to act on their desires if they have convinced themselves that what they want to do is OK.  They may tell themselves that they are more important than the children they abuse, that the abuse isn’t harmful, that they deserve or are entitled to it, that part of being a man/woman is being sexually dominant, or that the child consented.  Some abusive individuals may have psychological difficulties that contribute, such as problems controlling their emotions, a preoccupation with sex, or impaired abilities to feel for other people or understand social rules. They can also be victims of abuse themselves.  The truth is, it is difficult to understand and justify why this happens but unfortunately the reality is – it does.

What can we do?

Some types of abuse may be prevented by educating ourselves and our children. We need to teach them things like appropriate vs. inappropriate behaviour and how to say no when someone is asking them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Children more frequently come across an older child or adult (who they most likely already know) that is trying to entice them into an abusive situation, rather than an obviously scary stranger who they know immediately they should avoid. I have not lost sight of the fact that on some occasions the parents may be the abusers, which is when we need the people around the family to raise the alarm.

We should also set rules and boundaries in place when it comes to playdates, sleepovers, parties, babysitting—basically in any situation where your child may be exposed to others, while not constantly in your presence. Also, it is recommended that we never force affection. Children must always be able to choose how they wish to show their affection to others. Make sure to listen closely and validate their concerns. Strive to make them feel that they are in a safe environment and can trust you. This way if an approach or actual abuse does occur, they will feel comfortable coming to you for help. There are many good articles on the internet about prevention. Yes, it is a shame that we as parents have to think about these things, but unfortunately, we do.

What is the impact?

Those suffering from abuse are 25 times more likely to fail at school. Childhood sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual and relationship problems.

Survivors often experience guilt, shame, and self-blame. It has been shown that survivors frequently take personal responsibility for the abuse. When the sexual abuse is done by an esteemed trusted adult it may be hard for the child to view the perpetrator in a negative light, thus leaving them incapable of seeing what happened as not their fault. This is something that is cultivated by the abuser, as you will see in the grooming stages as the final stage ‘Transfer of reasonability’

Research is starting to show abuse on teenagers results in harmful, physical changes to teens’ brains. Children who had been emotionally or physically abused had less grey matter in their brains than children who were not victims of abuse

The affected area of the brain involves attention, decision-making, emotional and impulse control. Teens who are victims of child abuse experience mental health issues and may be at a greater risk of addiction, suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Adult survivors often live with memories for a long time. Some survivors keep the abuse a secret for many years. They may have tried to tell an adult and were met with resistance or felt there was no one they could trust. For these reasons and many others, the effects of sexual abuse can occur many years after the abuse has ended. Remember that there is no set timeline for dealing with and recovering from this experience.

How can someone start to heal?

Survivors are often troubled by how long and difficult the healing process is. In my experience, the healing process never really stops but it can and does make a huge difference if confronted.  It is important that victims stop being victims and recognize that they are a survivor, that they have managed to make It through what most of us could not imagine and they no longer have to be ruled by the programming of their past.

There is no linier healing process! More than likely, there might be a need to do the same stages again and again. Survivors might spend a number of years dealing with their abuse and feel they are able to cope and can focus on having a “normal” life.  Then a change in their life can reignite unresolved memories and feelings which leads to a focus on healing again.  Each person’s healing is unique, for some, certain stages will be more prominent and require more time and attention than others.

I have abbreviated the potential stages of healing below, however, as I have already stated, these can vary and be in different orders:

  1. The emergency stage: Beginning to deal with memories that have been long-suppressed
  2. Remembering: Many survivors suppress some or all memory of what was done to them. Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling, and understanding the impact abuse has had on their life.
  3. Believing it happened: Survivors often doubt their own memories. Accepting that the abuse happened is a very important part of the healing process.
  4. Breaking silence: Most survivors kept the abuse a secret. Telling a safe person is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame that often accompanies victimization.
  5. Understanding that it wasn’t your fault.   Adult survivors must learn to place the blame where it belongs—directly on the shoulders of the abusers.
  6. The child within: Many survivors have lost touch with their own innocence and vulnerability. Getting in touch with the child you once were can help you develop compassion for yourself.
  7. Grieving: Most survivors haven’t acknowledged or grieved for their losses. Grieving is an important part of letting go and helping to move forward
  8. Anger: Anger is one of the stages of grief and can give the required energy needed to move through grief, pain, and despair. Directing anger at the abuser and at those who didn’t protect them is part of the healing process.
  9. Disclosures: This is not for everyone, but if appropriate can be empowering and transformative.  Talking about the abuse and its effects with the abuser or with family members can help to let go of pain and fear.
  10. Forgiveness: Those who know me know I’m a big fan of William Paul Young who is the author of ‘The Shack’. Paul himself is a child sex abuse survivor and I would recommend you take a listen to his talks on YouTube.  Paul talks about the difference between, Forgiveness and reconciliation. He talks about forgiveness as forgiving yourself and letting go of limiting emotions you feel towards your abuser. He also goes on to discuss Reconciliation as reconnecting with that abuser and rebuilding trust. I believe this is a good and important definition of forgiveness. The reconciliation part, however, is another thing altogether.
  11. Spirituality: Having the support of a spiritual connection can be a real asset in the healing process. Spirituality is a uniquely personal experience which might be through religion, meditation or nature. The important thing is that it has to make sense to you.
  12. Resolution and moving on: Having done the work and created psychological tools that can help rebuild inner strength and self-esteem it is possible to face the world more trusting and less fearful.

There is always help if you are affected by anything I have written, as they say, “it’s good to talk”

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I have spoken and I herd my Dad’s voice

I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken and herd my Dad’s voice come out.  I think all parents have had this experience.   We are our child’s first teacher, as our parents were ours. They laid the foundation for many of our beliefs, values, attitudes, and parenting practices. We more often than not act on beliefs, values, and experiences from our childhood—without making a conscious decision to do so. I can give you an example from my own programming.  My mother left our home when I was only 5 years old and I have never seen her since.  My Father was a great Dad who raised my brother and I extremely well. My Dad had quite a few relationships during our lives with a lovely woman who would show up and stay for a while and then leave.  I have had a number of relationships though-out my life and been married more than once, of course, I would see the failure of these relationships were for many reasons but not anything to do with my view of relationships. While going through my training as a Physiotherapist it became clear to me that I had gone into any relationship expecting them not to last or to fail so I would never fully commit.  With this realisation and training and therapy, I have completely been able to change my programming and have been happily married for many years.

Parents transfer information through everyday interactions. Children tune in to the subtle and not-so-subtle messages we send, this influence’s how our children think about themselves and the world around them.

Thinking about our own childhood experiences can help us become more aware of the meaning behind our reactions toward our own child:

  • What were the messages we received as children? (intelligence, ability, importance, value?)
  • What influence, do we think these messages have on our parenting today?
  • What ways do we feel our parents had a positive impact on us—that we would like to do with our own child?
  • Was there anything about our parents’ approach to raising us that we don’t want to recreate with our child?
  • Are there any significant events or experiences in our childhood that had an impact on our and that now may be influencing your parenting?

This programming can be hard to change but not impossible.  I believe first we need to become conscious of the beliefs that are shaping our personality. Once we understand them, then we need to dig into our past and understand why we have these beliefs. Formation of beliefs happens unconsciously and that’s why we feel unable to change them. But once we make the unconscious conscious, we start re-gain control.  Identifying the beliefs that you want to change and understanding how we formed them is enough for us to break free from their clutches and not let them control our behaviour. It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. If we can pay attention to the present moment to our thoughts and feelings, and to the world around it can improve our mental wellbeing. You can do this with a therapist, I have helped many through this process which has helped to radically change some of my client’s view of themselves and others.  But we can also do this with someone who is objective and supportive but most important is constructively honest.

It can be frustrated in the beginning, beginnings are hard. We should not get demotivated if we fail from time to time. The new programming can’t always work as we hoped it will. We usually have to rewrite our programming many times to find the one that works best for us.  It’s hard, beginnings are the hardest, but it’s definitely worth it.

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Are we in danger of creating a generation of strangers?

Studies have shown an increase in depression and suicide over the last few years especially in teens, this is especially prevalent in those who spend many hours a day using phones and computers.   Social media allows them to present themselves as their ideal self, the person they would like everyone else to see. People create and link to hundreds and hundreds of ‘friends’, providing a sense of popularity not afforded to them in real life. When many don’t like what they see in the mirror they can alter the lighting to conceal blemishes, choose a flattering angle to hide our multiple chins, until they no longer recognise themselves. Social media allows them to literally present a virtual self to the world.  If they are hiding behind a virtual self who they feel is better than themselves, how do they then go out into the world and be confident to meet, converse and feel comfortable with others? Not only do they present a false physical self but then they create a personality and social world that they feel is needed to attract others.

 

I have certainly noticed an increase in sleeplessness, worry and anxiety with my clients. Many of them feeling they don’t know who they are, that they are living a false life that is not a true representation of ‘themselves’.  So, when I explore who they think ‘they’ are most can only say “not what the people see or I present “most talk about how tired they are having to maintain this version of themselves.

 

As a result, I am seeing ideas of social normality or what it is to have relationships becoming confused.  Interrelationships with others takes place in the world of a false, disembodied self, an unreal void begins to exist at the core of their being.  People may be more well-connected, more knowledgeable and moving at a faster pace, but whilst they spend hours staring at a screen they start to lose their ability to learn physical skills, read books, have fun and make real, tangible relationships.   This is why when you put many young adults in a social setting they don’t know how to connect or communicate physically – so they revert back to the virtual world (phone) to connect, even with people in the same room.   There’s no doubt that social media and technology is the future but it is critical that we do not lose sight of the important things that are rooted firmly in reality.

We are in danger of creating an epidemic of agoraphobia which includes fear of wide-open spaces, crowds (social anxiety), or traveling.   Agoraphobia can often be compounded by a fear of social embarrassment, as the agoraphobic fears the onset of a panic attack and appearing distraught in public. My role as a psychotherapist is evolving moreand more to

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Stinking Thinking

I have spoken on many occasions with my clients about “stinking thinking” with the question is often asked how they can get their minds to quiet down.  First it is important to understand that you are not your thinking! thinking is what you do not who you are. We spend over 90% of our time regretting things in the past, ruminating on what we should have done or worrying about what is going to happen in the future by constantly rehearsing the same possible conversation or scenarios we may face. We completely overlook what is happening now and take the time to appreciate the good things right in front of us.

One way that can help is Mindfulness meditation.  You can start with 5 minutes of silent meditation in the morning.  Some people think that if they meditate “properly”, they will have a “blank mind”.  I can tell you that I have never experienced a “blank mind” and I still have “stinking thinking” on a regular basis.

There are mindfulness exercises you can do sitting in your car or waiting for a bus its a matter of being present. As long as you are grounded in an awareness of the present moment, you are meditating. As I have said our ego’s dwell on the future or past, a meditation experience—even a short one—is a sort of ‘vacation’ from Stinking thinking, you might feel that you can’t put a stop to the thoughts.” The skill of meditation is not about shutting out thoughts or shutting down the mind. Rather, it’s about divesting ourselves of thoughts that arise when we need to get away from thinking. This is a practice of noticing the thoughts that arise and then letting them pass by turning your attention to an object like your breathing or imagine your thoughts floating past on a stream. It doesn’t really matter what object of concentration you use. It is important to remember the distinction between thoughts arising and thinking about them, you can let go of the ego’s urge to think about things when they pop up. Practice noticing thoughts arising and intervene by letting them go before you react, don’t let ‘stinking thinking’ of regrets and worries ruins your ability to enjoy life.

Another approach is called Diffusion this is the practice of learning how to avoid becoming “fused” with our thoughts.   Fusion is defined as when our thoughts and whatever we are thinking about become fused together in our minds.  I like to think about it as becoming overly attached to my thoughts, which leads to “stinking thinking”.  You could look at thoughts as “stories” so another way to explain diffusion is the story and the event become “fused” or stuck together.  We start believing that what our thoughts are telling us is the absolute truth.

One important principle of diffusion is to refrain from asking ourselves whether a thought is true and instead to focus on whether a thought is helpful.  If we pay attention to a particular thought is it going to help us to create the kind of life that we desire?  If I notice myself drifting off into worry I can stop and gently say “Is this thought helpful?”

When “Stinking Thinking” stats, stop, observe what you’re thinking, and ask yourself, “Is this true?” You can consider the evidence that it is and weigh that against the evidence that it isn’t, keeping in mind that extreme statements such as “I’ll never…” or “It always happens that…” are almost certainly distortions. Using logic and reason, you can analyze a situation and determine whether you were assuming a worst-case scenario, and consider what the best-case scenario and even the most likely scenario are. If you don’t know whether a particular negative thought is likely to be true, you can explore the possibilities instead of being pessimistic and assuming the worst.

Ideally it is best to work with a mindfulness trainer or a therapist to help figure out specific, remedying thoughts. If this isn’t possible, then write out the replacement thoughts. When you first begin using this remedy of a positive thought, feeling, or sensation, you’re likely to feel resistance, as the old neural pathways in the brain protest, “But this isn’t true!” One way to get around this obstacle is to design remedying thoughts that feel true in the moment. In mindfulness training, you actually teach the mind to create positive thoughts, and in so doing, you reprogram your brain, replacing old neural networks with new ones that foster creativity and optimism.

Once you’ve generated a new positive and healing thought, make a point of saying the words silently or aloud every time you witness yourself thinking negatively. Let’s say you’re experiencing the recurring negative thought, “I’m no good with numbers.” First look back to the source of that belief, examining your past. You may simply need to notice that your mind is creating a negative loop of self-talk, comprised of self-defeating thoughts. By adopting the new, positive thought, “I’m fully capable of learning anything I wish to learn,” your mind flow will begin to shift and travel on a more positive course.

So the next time your mind starts engaging in “stinking thinking” try one of these techniques and see if you find it helpful

 

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