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Why it’s important to be aware of our intentions

Sometimes when we are communicating with others, we get the sense that there is something else in the message that doesn’t exactly match with the words. How many times do we hear, ‘it’s not what was said, but the way it was said’? Very often the intention behind the message isn’t evident in the narrative being spoken.

I was aware of this when I used to run group therapy sessions. I would ask people to be really honest with themselves about what their intention was before they delivered any feedback to the others. It’s something we should all be considering and asking ourselves routinely, before we communicate with others. If we are honest about how we want the other person to feel, then it could alter what we say and how we say it. If we want to give someone a poke, we can do so with quite innocent-sounding words. There are some really obvious red flags, for instance, if someone says, ‘I don’t mean to be rude’, or ‘I hope you don’t take this the wrong way’ we know that we might be getting a rude or insulting comment, veiled in something sounding innocuous.

If we have an exchange with someone and we come away feeling negative or talked down to, then quite likely this was the intention meant by the other person. If we were to trust the way we felt and the signals we were getting from our body we would get a more accurate measure of what is actually being communicated to us. Instead, we allow our heads to tell us that we’re imagining things or being silly, but often these first signs prove, in time, to be correct. Some people are really good at delivering insults with a big smile with nothing directly in the things they say that could be challenged, but we know we have been insulted.

How we can change our intentions

During our sensorimotor training, we did an exercise where we stood behind someone and placed a hand on their back. We then had to energetically communicate an intention through our hand, without altering the pressure. We communicated things like kindness, frustration, anger, hope, understanding and acceptance. The receiver guessed right every time because they could feel the intention through the hand. It was an incredible exercise and a real eye opener.

It’s really important to be aware of our intentions, because if we are feeling frustrated or negative, then anyone we are communicating with is likely to pick it up and may feel it’s something they have done to cause this. If we can be aware of these feeling or states, then we can make sure that it doesn’t get projected onto the person behind the checkout in a shop, or anyone else we might come across over our day. In addition, if we are tuned into our own emotional state and have a sense of our own body, then we can pick up the intentions that are being projected onto us and we’ll know that they don’t belong to us, we didn’t cause it.

If we could be more honest with ourselves about what indirect, underlying intention we are projecting then it might stop us having a dig at someone, and instead be more honest about how we are feeling and why. Our suppressed emotions have a way of leaking out, especially an emotion like anger. We end up displaying it not only through verbal communication, but through our behaviour. If we want to annoy someone, we usually find a way but try to make it look very innocent. Narcissists are experts at this, and the gaslighting is the denial of it, turning it back onto the person on the receiving end as paranoia or oversensitivity.

Honesty is the missing piece. If we can be honest with ourselves about what we are trying to deliver, it can give us time to reconsider what we say and the way we say it. We can replace a negative intention with a much kinder one.

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How our childhood experiences affect our adult lives

We’ve probably all heard about the nature nurture debate, are we the way we are from our genetic code, or is it our upbringing that plays the dominant role? Whatever we believe, there is no doubt that our childhood experiences play a major part in how we operate in our adult lives. Every day I help people understand the ways that these experiences affect them in all aspects of their life, finding ways to function and do things differently.

These early experiences can result in developmental trauma. We don’t have behaviours and coping mechanisms for no reason, we have them because they were needed and useful at the time. The more extreme the coping mechanism, the more extreme our experiences were. For a lot of my clients, they have very little memory of their childhood and find it hard to recall how their carers or parents behaved towards them. For those people, we have to rely on the body, and the way it moves and reacts to get some kind of clue as to what growing up for them must have been like.

For instance, if they are asked to make a decision, they will often try to work out what the right decision should be. They may fear getting it wrong or that they’ll make the wrong decision. If they can’t get the clues or affirmations from the people around them, then they might panic or get stuck, not knowing what to do. This tells us that either their environment was unpredictable, the rules may have kept changing, or they were expected to take responsibility for things that they just weren’t ready to take. They may have been told off for not making the right decision, therefore feeling a huge responsibility for the enormity of even the smallest of decisions.

These experiences can actually be seen in a physical way in the body, when asked to make a decision, the person might begin to look quickly around the room, they might stare intently at the person in front of them. This might then be followed by a shrinking or a slump in their body. They might then say, ‘it’s all too overwhelming’, or ‘I just don’t know’ and have multiple different examples of not being able to make a decision. Their head will have some pretty critical things to say about this, none of which are helpful, and so the cycle continues.

For some people, they do have some childhood memories. This can be useful, as they can then recall how their carers reacted or behaved in situations. It can be helpful to ask them what was expected of them growing up. Some people were encouraged to be grown up and they were praised for doing more adult things. Some were pushed to do better, but often didn’t receive praise for the achievements they actually made. Some were criticised and shamed if they did things wrong, or they were told off for being spontaneous and childlike.

Whatever the message, we internalise it and are are deeply affected by that message later on. These messages become beliefs and they affect the way that we behave and what we believe about ourselves deep down, these then get stored as a lived experience in the body. The job of the therapist is to notice these unconscious movements and responses, and bring the clients awareness to them.

One of the problems with developmental trauma is that it becomes so natural, it’s not in our conscious awareness, therefore it’s really hard to spot the physical evidence and body responses. The other difficulty with developmental trauma is the same as with any trauma, it doesn’t change in time, the reactions & coping mechanisms stay, the younger parts of us that are attached to the reactions, stay at the same young age. This means that when we react, we are reacting from a much younger part of ourselves but we are totally unaware of it and think it’s just us. We don’t know when it’s a triggered response.

The good thing is that these responses are pretty consistent, which is why they keep repeating. It’s can be really hard to try to behave differently. This means that if we begin to start observing ourselves in everyday life, it makes it easier to begin noticing these reactions and responses. If we can notice where our eyes are drawn to, if our body position shifts, if our breathing changes, then it gives us some clues as to what our body is doing, and why this might have made perfect sense in the past. It gives us a clue about what might be helpful and how we can bring a present moment experience to this triggered past one.

We can try things like, tapping things around us to feel things and hear the noise they make. Moving our feet inside our shoes, shaking our hands. Doing something that we can feel and experience right now. When we understand that we are taking care of a younger inner-self, it can make it easier to engage our adult brain and then try some different experiments.

If decision making is hard, then we have to start a retraining programme for ourselves, where we start with little decisions at first like tea or coffee, wearing a white t-shirt or a blue one, eating a cheese sandwich or a ham one. We’re replacing the fear of a negative consequence with curiosity, giving it a go and seeing what happens. We can also help these unconscious movements by waking up the unconscious a bit. For instance, when we make a cup of tea, we can try observing the order we do things and asking ourselves why we do it that way? If we drive, then we can try noticing the order of each step as we get into the car. Doing this can really help our observing part in its retraining programme. When we begin new experiments, it’s always enlightening and even amusing, it’s such a good way to help the unconscious be more seen and noticed.

When we listen to our bodies, even if we have no memory of our childhood experiences, we can bring some awareness to our behaviours that have come from that time. We can find things that will help us to manage these behaviours or coping mechanisms in our adult lives.

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How to successfully manage your extreme behaviours

I realised recently how much I work on ‘extremes’ with people, managing their extreme behaviours in multiple areas of their lives, a real ‘all or nothing’. One of the areas of extreme behaviours they struggle with is eating. This looks like them either trying to eat a totally clean, organic, healthy diet or finding themselves in a loop of fast food, ready meals and snacks. This can then ramp up to fluctuating between eating practically nothing or binge eating.

Another extreme is exercising, where they really go for it, fitting in as many sessions as possible, or they do the opposite, doing nothing, maybe just thinking about exercising, then watching Netflix instead. Alcohol is another extreme they struggle with, either drinking way more in the week than they were planning to, or going for abstinence. Smoking and any form of drug use also falls into this subject, either doing loads or trying to abstain totally.

There will be all sorts of places in our lives that we can see the same kinds of patterns. If we name the clean abstinence and highly motivated phase as ‘Phase 1’ and the other end of the spectrum as ‘Phase 2’, we can look at how they play out.

The problem with extreme behaviours, is that we end up swinging between the two phases, sometimes slowly but sometimes rapidly. It’s then easy to feel defeated, unmotivated and negative, as we don’t feel like we’re making any progress, or if we do make any progress, we can’t maintain it.

If we are in Phase 1 and we’re really keeping on track with our plan, but then something comes along to interrupt it, it can throw us off course completely. Sometimes one little slip or diversion can send us back into Phase 2. Internally, this might sound like, ‘well I messed up yesterday so I might as well just start again next week’. The more often this happens, the more time we tend to spend in Phase 2. We plan to get out of it but will find various reasons to delay the big shift it takes to move all the way over to Phase 1 again. During this time we’ll be very negative about ourselves. We might be making plausible excuses to tell ourselves and others why it’s too difficult, but we end up just berating ourselves.

So how can we make a change?

Deep down we know that this process isn’t really working, that we’re just going in constant cycles, yet we keep doing it anyway. Most of us have heard things like ‘diets don’t work’, ‘it’s about making changes in our lifestyle’ but it can be really hard to do things differently.

I can relate all these things to regulation issues. Our nervous system doesn’t operate well when we’re in extremes, we work best when we are balanced and in control. Sometimes we know when we need to be more activated and energetic, and then when we need to be more relaxed, we need to recharge our batteries and settle. It’s the same way we go about meeting our needs and managing ourselves. If we know we have a tendency to live in extremes, then we have to be prepared to start building some middle ground, a place where we stop bouncing from Phase 1 to Phase 2, and back again.

To really start to do things differently, we have to be realistic about the things we really want to abstain completely from, the things we honestly know we can’t have moderation with. This is different for each of us, but it requires being honest with ourselves, and it usually includes evidence from our past experiences. We might want to be occasional smokers or drinkers, but if we know that one slip sends us into the extreme again, then we maybe have to accept that we can’t be occasional with it.

We also have to look at what we think or feel about the idea of a middle ground. Could it be that we consider it dull or boring, or not enough? Do we think of it as too easy? That things that are worth having, have to be hard-earned? Do we believe that unless it’s extreme, it might not work? Are we too impatient to build a middle ground? Do we just want fast results?

We have gotten used to a very immediate way of life, we rarely have to wait for anything anymore and can feel quite outraged if we are expected to wait for anything. To create change, we have to know what we really think about building that middle ground, as our thoughts will creep in at any opportunity, urging us to do more or less, telling us it’s a waste of time or not working. We then have to decide what our middle ground will look like, how much flexibility we can have in it, and what signs would be there that tells us that we’re slipping into either Phase 1 or Phase 2. We also have to consider what support we might need to help us build our middle ground, and to maintain it until it feels like the normal. It will be a struggle at some points, but we need to expect that. Regulation takes work, whether it’s keeping us in a settled functional state, or making big changes in our lifestyle. Therefore, we need to know what’s going on in order to help and what isn’t. If we are trying to do less of something, then we need to know what we are going to fill the gap with. We might need to have a bit of structure planned in. If we are forcing ourselves to do something, then we have to accept that it won’t last. Relying on others doing things with us is also precarious, in case they drop out.

The more balance we can get into our lives, the more regulated all round we are going to feel. If we are constantly stressing about not doing something, or doing too much of anything, it’s going to be really hard for your nervous system to keep in balance. A holistic approach is always the most successful and actually, the easiest! Making little tweaks in several different areas can make an overall big difference over time, but we need to be patient and keep an eye on our extreme tendencies. This way we can successfully manage our extreme behaviours.

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How we can celebrate our small wins to achieve big goals

When it comes to achieving goals, sometimes it can seem as if we just aren’t making any progress or it feels like a really slow, long slog. There could be a number of factors that contribute towards this. For one, society throws us very conflicting messages. We are expected from an early age to do well, to try to win and get the best results, but we are also not supposed to be too joyous about our achievements. It’s very frowned upon to say that we’re good at something or to talk about our achievements, as we are then accused of bragging or being big-headed. We’re praised for being humble or by down-playing our accomplishments, especially in the UK, it’s a very British thing. If we then do achieve something, we are usually asked what’s the next thing we’re doing, so the pressure to move on and keep doing better becomes the norm.

There are several downsides to this, firstly, if we don’t win but we’ve had a great personal best, it’s usually dismissed and we end up feeling very devalued. Secondly, if we need some encouragement or validation from others in order for anything to have value, then we’ve stepped into precarious territory, as we might not get it. If we get no recognition, then it’s easy to feel invisible or of low worth.

How can we start to make a change?

When we are trying to make changes in any area of our lives, then we have to look at it as a process. Hardly anything just changes overnight, most things take work and will progress in stages. If we can’t put any value on the first stages, then we also can’t build on those stages. Often these first steps are the most important, they are the foundation stones of what is yet to come. When everything seems overwhelming and it feels like a struggle, but we still manage to get one thing in the day done, even if we don’t finish it, it can be hard to put that in the positive pile. It’s more likely to get devalued by things we say to ourselves like, ‘it’s nothing’, ‘other people managed twenty things, I only did this’, ‘I’m never going to get anywhere if that’s all I can do’. This mindset makes it hard to try working on the same task the next day, as it seems of little or of no value. If however, we could do that one small task every day and we celebrate it, then at the end of the week say we can say, ‘I did that four times this week, maybe I can do it five times next week!’ We can then make progress. If we hold any progress as a positive, then it’s got a chance to develop or become the norm of what we can do. We can build on it. If we keep dismantling the first foundation steps, we won’t be able to build anything. We have to learn to celebrate small wins.

For example, if we were to train for a 10k run, we would never expect to do the whole thing in the first day. We will however, be pleased that we ran to the end of the road. We know it’s a process but we often don’t apply the same principles to other things.

It’s much easier for us to look at what we can’t do and end up feeling less-than. In the last two years, we have had much less at our disposal to make us feel good and uplift us. It becomes very hard to value the little things when we have lost so many of the big things. However, this gives us a great opportunity to start from a foundation level. We can find things that we value and make a point of praising them, giving them the value they deserve. Whether that’s the plants you have grown, the lunch you have prepared, or just that you got showered today. No matter what it is, practice giving it value, celebrate all your small wins. If the inner-gremlins show up to minimise or devalue what you’re doing, then remind yourself of the good qualities, make it important. It’s surprising how differently we can feel about the small things. It’s similar to the idea of having gratitude, it makes us look at things in a positive way rather than a negative way.

We also have to be able to do this for ourselves, as it’s unlikely to come from others. If we are dependant on validation externally, then it can be taken away just as readily as it’s been given. When we hold it ourselves, then no-one can take it away from us because our value is solid, we know why we value the little things. If we can start to do this for the small things, then it naturally becomes easier to value the big things without the fear of ridicule, or fear of being made to feel vulnerable because of what others might say. Celebrating our small wins enables us to achieve our big goals.

All of this is a process and it takes work, but it’s a journey that is well worth doing. It’s something we can all do without much at our disposal.

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How to stop negative thoughts

Since I began my own experiment with working on my own judgments and negative thoughts, it’s opened up all kinds of things for me. My first task was to really check out in my daily life, how judgmental I was towards others and to myself. My next task was to then observe a judgmental thought came up when it came up, and question what it was about, what I was basing it on and where it had come from. It was such a revealing and freeing experiment as I realised the judgments and negativity I had about certain things were very limiting and not conducive to curiosity at all. I realised a dismissive judgment about something would shut the door on that subject and not let me wonder about it, so I payed special attention to those things.

Just talking about my journey with judgmental and negative thoughts again feels quite vulnerable and exposing, it’s good to acknowledge that. If I wonder about that, then I see that I am assuming a judgment from others that as a psychotherapist I should be judgment free, therefore I shouldn’t be exposing this side of myself. That’s also shutting another door and would mean me pretending that I’m not like every other human on the planet, so instead I’m putting this out there to widen my own curiosity and others.

How our judgements have impacted us

The vastness of what we don’t know is mind-blowing. Everything from the brain, to the body, to the cosmos, the universe, quantum physics, spirituality and so much more. My sense of the world right now is that it is becoming more polarised, and for a lot of things we’re being asked to pick a side, one being right and one being wrong, then we are defending those positions. If, as a species, we could learn to be less set in our beliefs and judgments and be more open to hearing others beliefs. We could allow ourselves to learn things that could be so eye opening, that in turn there would be less disagreements.

If we hold any negative judgments about the way we look, it’s because we have believed other peoples views or opinions about the way we should look, we’ve held onto that and chased that ideal. This makes acceptance very difficult and if we hold those judgements about ourselves, then most likely we’ll hold them about other people too. The same goes for intelligence, the type of job we do, our relationship status and where we live, etc. Just being able to catch a negative thought or judgment about something or someone can really begin to change those set beliefs.

If we are having a conversation with someone and we hear something we strongly disagree with, then we stop listening to what’s being said and just wait for the opportunity to say our bit. We all do it and we have all had it done to us. We can begin to change the way we do things by starting to observe ourselves and be more mindful about what we do or say next.

How addressing our negative thoughts can make a real change

My curiosity and observation of myself has allowed me to look at all kinds of things in more detail, from astrology, astronomy, religion, biology and energy, etc. It’s also made me much more friendly and sociable, as I now want to chat to people more and be curious about them. I’ve learnt loads about my surrounding area and things that are going on, just from speaking to people as I go for a walk along the river during the day.

As a being, we are made up of a small amount of matter. Each cell in our body is mostly a liquid jelly substance, water and energy are mostly what we are made up of. It makes so much sense to then start to pay attention to our energy and positive vibrations. If we are being judgmental, we are then being negative and that emits a flat, dull energy. When we are open, curious and enthusiastic, it means we are vibrating at a much higher frequency. This is not only felt by us, but by everyone around us.

We need to learn to be more open, there is so much we don’t know. The universe is made up of so much dark matter, which we know so little about right now, we are still learning. The connection to ourselves, leads to better connections with others and the whole world around us. We should be prepared to be amazed, not stay in the trenches of what we think we know, and stay in our cycles of negative thoughts. Raising our consciousness means we can be open to learning and having new experiences. I’m aware this is a very big journey, but I’m up for starting it and I’m excited about what comes next.

To read about the beginning of my journey with judgemental and negative thoughts, click here. If you’d like to start your own journey of exploring your judgemental thoughts, to learn how to begin observing, we created a resource to help you. Our Body Work Course, will take you through step-by-step, so you can begin to learn so much more about you and your body, you can find the course here.

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How to put yourself first: Meeting your own needs

Meeting our own needs is something that we all struggle with. For some people it’s just mystifying, for others it gets messy when they are in a relationship. It can be really difficult to put ourselves first. The first question we need to ask ourselves is, how were our needs met when we were growing up?

Our needs are the fundamental things in life, the way we were fed, the comfort, the support we were given and how we were treated when we were frightened or upset. It’s also how we were encouraged, or allowed to make choices for ourselves. For instance, if we were always told what to do, what to eat, denied an opinion, had our choices ignored or worse, we were belittled, then we become very used to others making the decisions and providing for us. We might even start to become fearful about making a choice or expressing a need because of the reaction we might get from someone. These patterns then become ingrained in us, they become second nature and we don’t realise how we’re operating. It means that we start to rely on others to either make these decisions or choices for us, or we learn to read others and second guess what they might want. The problem with that is, is that other people can be very unreliable and we end up feeling frustrated about not having a say, without really knowing why. Sometimes we might actually know what it is we want, but instead we give clues to other people hoping that they will pick them up. If they don’t, it then becomes frustrating and it reinforces the idea that we are invisible or we don’t matter, suddenly we don’t know how to put ourselves first.

It can be really infuriating when we are actually presented with a choice, but we have no idea what to say or do. We really beat ourselves up about it. It can also make things quite limiting, if we can’t make a choice and always defer it to others, then we can’t protest if we don’t like the outcome. When we can start to recognise this and notice what our patterns of behaviour are, then it becomes easier to spot them and it gives us an opportunity to work on them. Some people find that they are quite good at meeting their own needs when they’re on their own, but this then gets disrupted when other people get involved.

So how can you put yourself first and start meeting your own needs?

Our needs cover so many different areas of our lives, so it’s easier to break them down into smaller chunks to explore. Emotional needs can feel a bit daunting as a starting point, they can also be more complicated and affected by a lot of different things. If we start with a need that’s easier to pin down and quantify, this can be a good place to begin working on them.

If it’s not too much of a triggering subject, then you could start by looking at food and your relationship to feeding yourself:

  • Firstly, you can look at how you can tell when you’re hungry. Are you eating at set times, because that’s what you’ve always done, or are you eating when your body is actually telling you it should eat?
  • Do you eat differently when you are alone? If so, how differently and is it the way you like it?
  • Do you cook more and make more effort for others, more than you do for yourself?
  • Are you making what others would like?
  • Are you eating the amount that is right for you, and at a time that suits you, or are these things regulated by others? In other words, are you putting others needs before your own? If so, then you are minimising your own needs.

We can take a moment to just be curious about that

  • Consider what it would look like if you put your needs first. What reaction do you have to that prospect?
  • How much sleep do you need?
  • What time would you like to go to bed and what time would you like to get up?

What’s getting in the way?

If the reality of what you actually do is long way off from what you would like, then it’s worth wondering about what’s getting in the way.

  • When it gets to the time at night you have identified, what stops you going to bed?
  • If it’s cold, do you put the heating on exactly when you need to, or do you wait until it’s freezing? Would you put the heating on earlier if someone else was there?

If we really struggle to identify our own needs, knowing what is right for us and why, then putting boundaries in place is going to be really difficult. If other peoples needs take priority, then we will have our boundaries dismantled really easily. It’s very easy to get lost and end up feeling controlled, or even just insignificant, which does nothing for our self worth or self esteem.

It’s really beneficial to consider what our needs are and what our relationship to ourselves is like, it allows growth in so many different areas. We often do things in a certain way just because that’s how it’s always been, when we take some time to consider different options and choices, it can open up all kinds of possibilities.

Some people express a worry that this will be seen or lead to selfishness, it won’t. It’s not self-obsessed or self-indulgent, it’s about getting the right balance and getting a say in what is right for us. It’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and not needing to be so reliant on others. It’s never selfish to discover more about ourselves and grow in confidence, it just makes our lives and the lives of people around us easier.

Our body work course that recently went live is packed full of different ways you can learn to recognise your own needs and build a strong, connected relationship to your body. It’s the best way to learn how to put yourself first and meet your own needs. We designed it to make it accessible and easy for everyone to use and do, and we wanted to create something affordable for everyone. To check it out, click the button below.

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How developmental trauma shows up in the body

Most of us understand what a traumatic event is. We often associate it with an accident, an attack, something terrible that is witnessed, etc. We know that extreme events can cause PTSD and trauma, however, we often miss or don’t fully understand developmental trauma. This is what I treat day in, day out, it is far more common and goes misdiagnosed and mistreated.

When we are little, we have very few defence mechanisms, we are far more vulnerable and we’re not able to understand complex situations. It’s much easier for us to then be terrified and overwhelmed, things that we wouldn’t normally give a second thought about can be a big event when we’re little. We usually recover from one-off events and often we don’t remember them at all. However, if we are consistently scared, if our punishment has been overly harsh, or if we are regularly shamed or humiliated, then this can result in developmental trauma.

I have many clients who actually have no clear memory of their trauma, they often have virtually no childhood memories and therefore no idea why they are struggling. Developmental trauma can have many different presentations, like feeling highly anxious for no apparent reason, they are often fearful and scared to go out amongst people, they may have panic attacks or dissociate easily. They often have body-related problems like IBS or unidentified pain, they may often have eating disorders and body image difficulties. They also may have self harmed, have substance addictions or a series of failed relationships. They all know there is something wrong but it can be difficult finding out what exactly is wrong, why it’s affecting them the way it is, and most importantly, what they need to get better.

99% of my clients have had lots of different prescription medications over the years. Many of them have been diagnosed with BPD, bipolar, ADHD, plus many more. As the medical profession are not trained to spot and treat developmental trauma, because it doesn’t usually come with flashbacks, the symptoms are treated with medication and the most they will be offered is talking therapy. Developmental trauma affects the body, the nervous system, all the regulation systems, the way we move, our posture and certainly our behaviour. When I begin working with people, they often are totally unaware of the movements their body is making and the reactions they have to certain things. It’s my job to notice these often subtle things, to spot patterns of behaviour and feed that back to my client. This way they can start noticing too and being curious helps them observe what’s happening. Because we know everything happens for a reason, the way the body responds can give us a huge clue as to why this might have been an effective strategy.

The most frequent things that I notice are: them pulling away when they talking about something, they go really quiet and still, they lose the ability to move certain parts of their body, or one half of them trying to hide. Developmental trauma will often show up in particular parts of the body, it’s not an overall uniform response. Sometimes the left and right sides of the body do completely different things. Clients will often have a certain place they sense the trauma, if they pull away or begin glancing over to one side, this will be consistent every time a particular subject is mentioned or thought about.

We bring up small pieces of memory, or a recent triggering event, then observe what the body does and give it a different experience. If our body tries to disappear, then we have to find ways to be seen safely and use resources to help achieve this.

It’s really hard for people with developmental trauma to work out what’s happening. They are so used to the body responses they don’t notice them. Also, if we have an activated part of the body, our first instinct is to stay away from it, to not pay attention to it. It takes an experienced therapist to make sense of all of this and help to find different ways to help and heal. Once the client gets on the right path, they can do so much on their own. Additionally, sometimes the memory comes back when the body trauma is revealed, but not always.

If developmental trauma was more widely known and understood, it would save so much heartache and time for everyone, including expense. Almost everyone I see for the first time has an overwhelming sense of relief, that finally someone gets them and knows what is needed for them to get better. It shouldn’t be such a mystery, having a troubled childhood is sadly an all too common experience, we should know how to help this.

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Mental health needs more than just a week

Last week was mental health awareness week, but the conversation shouldn’t just stop there, awareness needs to be raised all the time. It’s great that mental health is being given a platform, but things around this subject are slow to change in ordinary, daily life. We all still feel the need to put on a brave face and this is especially true if we are in any position of authority or leadership. The pressure to be fine can be immense, often if we show a crack, people who depend upon us wobble. Sometimes there is an inference that we are not looking after ourselves properly, that we have let things slip if we dare say we are struggling. All of these things need to be discussed openly, honestly and with all the judgment taken out.

For most of us, when we feel overwhelmed, down or anxious, we want to withdraw, we don’t want to be seen. This is a protective measure and makes sense, as this can be helpful sometimes. However, if this is for a prolonged period of time, coming back out into society, work etc, can be really daunting. There is an element of this happening for a lot of us now with us coming out of lockdown and things opening back up. A lot of people are scared, if they haven’t been out for a long time amongst groups of people, it’s all very unfamiliar. Add that on top of all the new rules and regulations we are supposed to know about and follow, as if they are normal. It’s somehow not ok to be seen not having a clue how things work. If we feel as though we are coming out of hiding, the last thing we want is to be told off, shouted at, or called out in front of others. For this reason some people are avoiding getting back out there and staying inside instead. When we feel fearful, we get more hyper-vigilant and scan around for danger. We loose the ability to be curious, take in our surroundings and feel relaxed, this in turn increases our anxiety.

So what can we do?

Firstly, we need to start connecting with things again, opening up our curiosity and feeling a part of things. The theme of this years awareness week was nature, which is brilliant, especially as its spring time and all the trees and plants are emerging, just as we are. Nature gives us the perfect opportunity to be curious, engage our senses, and feel involved. We always know what we will get with nature, it’s not unpredictable or hard to read, unlike the way humans can be. It can really help us to become more mindful in a very relaxed way, by just taking notice of what’s around us. When we plant things and watch them grow we feel involved in the process. We plant the seeds, we water them, and we watch them emerge and grow. We have to nurture them to keep them alive and we feel responsible for them. Planting cress seeds on damp kitchen roll is one of the quickest ways to do this, they begin growing so quickly. When we go out for a walk or into the garden, we can really notice the leaves growing and changing. We can feel them, smell them and notice the difference between the two sides. Touch things, notice textures and scents, listen to the rain falling, or notice the way the wind moves the trees. As you do this, notice the way you are breathing, let yourself really take in the connection, be curious about what feels good and how your body tells you this feels good.

If we practice being really present in nature, it can help our hyper-vigilance stay under control, if we can always find something to focus on, to really allow our awareness to be engaged, it is settling for our nervous system. We can use these skills when we go out amongst people, instead of worrying what might happen, focusing on what is actually around us right now. When we learn to be observant, it can help us feel less like a rabbit in the headlights and more of a part of what’s happening.

We do need a bit of a retraining programme but it’s so important that we connect back with people, isolation is so damaging to us and has a dramatic impact upon our mental health. If we are going to be more aware, then we have to be able to communicate with each other. None of us will open up or reach out if we don’t feel safe, we have to be able to smile at each other, let the people around us know we are there and we are approachable. The more we can make going outside a pleasant experience, the easier it will be for those who feel scared or nervous. Just making the effort to smile at people we interact with helps us and helps them. Smiling is very underrated, it’s more tricky in a mask but people can see the smile in our eyes. If we bear in mind that there are nervous people around us, pretending to be fine, we might remember to smile more and be open to engagement, it might make a huge difference to someone’s day.

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Different ways to change our energy levels

We all have days where we feel depleted, where we can’t be bothered to do anything or we’re a bit fed up. For some of us that feeling can go deeper and we can get really down, wanting to shut ourselves away, cancel plans and want to just hibernate. The longer we are in this state, the harder it can be to get out of it. Our head will join in often with negative thoughts to match why we are feeling low, looking for reasons, things or people to blame. We might get very critical of ourselves for not being productive and list all the things we should be doing. All of these things make us feel worse. Some of us will force ourselves to do things and hope it helps. Sometimes it really does help and we feel more energised and awake, other times it can feel like wading through sludge.

External factors play a huge role in how we feel, we get affected by things happening around us all the time. Think about when we wake up in the morning and look out of the window, if it’s cold, dull and rainy we usually sigh and won’t feel like getting up. If it’s bright and sunny, we feel much more inclined to get up and get out into the sunshine, or even just enjoy looking at it through the window. Our mood and energy levels are very affected by the environment around us.

We can’t change the weather or the world around us, but we can have a say in how it affects us. There are so many things we can try, we are all different so it’s important to find the things that work for us. The way we can tell what works is by taking note of the signs that our mood is low and our energy is flat.

Some signs you can use as a measure

  • Notice what your posture is like, is it slumped?
  • When you move your shoulders are they heavy?
  • How are you breathing?
  • If you think about walking outside, what response do you get?
  • What are you doing right now, how have you been behaving today?

Just get some things to act as a guide or measure so you can really tell if there is an improvement.

Now we can try a few things to change our energy levels:

You can sit or stand for this one. 

  1. Starting at you toes, with both hands begin to make circular movements in one direction, moving up your legs at what ever speed feels right, making circles all the way up to the top of your leg. Then do the same with the other one. If you’re uncomfortable touching your legs, then hover above them, making the same circular motion.
  2. Next, do the same circles with your hands but this time do it on your arms, begin at your hands and just travel up in spiralling circles all the way up to your shoulder. Make sure you do each side. Now just take a measure of how you feel.
  3. Next we’re going to reverse it, going back down to your legs, this time starting at the top and repeating the circular spirals all the way down to your toes. Do the same on the other leg.
  4. Then you’re going to reverse the arms by starting at your shoulders, making circular movements with your hands all the way down to your hand.
  5. Now just take a moment to notice if you prefer the upwards motion, or the downwards motion. If you have a preference, repeat that one.
  6. Next we can do something with our core energy. Sitting or standing, begin by imagining an invisible line from your belly button up to the top of your head. Using your awareness, follow the line starting at your belly button, follow it up to the top of your head and then move it out of your head. Speed this up and do this a few times.
  7. Now you’re going to reverse it. Imagine the line coming in from the top of your head and travelling down to your belly button, do this a few times.
  8. Notice what you feel, do you prefer going up or going down? Whichever one you prefer, go back to your starting point and this time instead of going straight, let your awareness make little spirals as it moves either up or down. Do it a couple of times and see if you prefer going straight or adding the swirls in.
  9. You can also trace these movements with your hands, allowing the hand to trace the line your awareness was following to see if there is a difference.
  10. We can move this out a little and do the same again, by imagining a line where your waist is, a few feet in front of you. Let your eyes and awareness follow this line from waist-height up and above your head. Do this a few times, speeding it up. Now reverse it and start at the top, trace it downwards, do this a few times.
  11. What is the difference, which one do you prefer?
  12. Now we can move it about a bit, going in the preferred direction instead of imagining a straight line in front of you. Let it go either up or down, making spirals as it moves. What works best?

If you notice that the upward-motion works best for you, then you are probably at the bottom of your window of tolerance and need to raise your energy or activation in your body. If the downward-motion is the best, then you may be near the top of your window and need to come down or ground a bit.

We can sweep our energy up or down with not much effort. We’re not the same every day, so try each one to see which one works best each time.

What’s important, is to actually have things that you can do to help you counteract the impact of what’s going on around you. The more you can work with your body to make changes, the less you have to be fearful of what’s going to happen next. The brilliant thing about body work is your body will tell you what works and what doesn’t, you don’t need to work it out, just try things. This will really help you listen to your body.

If you liked doing these, you can purchase our first body work course, where you will find so many different techniques to try so you can really get to know yourself and build a good relationship with your body.

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How to build a better relationship with your body

Most of us have a lot more critical things to say about our body than positive things. The more critical we are, the less we want to pay attention to it, we would much rather ignore it. We are bombarded by images of perfect bodies, we are surrounded by information about nutrition and exercise. We measure ourselves against other people and usually find ourselves lacking. We will have received a lot of criticisms throughout our lives, maybe even insults. All of this makes it hard to have a good relationship with our body.

However, it’s in our body that everything to do with action or feeling takes place. We feel emotions through our body; that flush of warmth when we feel a deep connection, we talk about things warming our heart or things that makes our blood run cold. Our body is how we experience feelings and life events, and we need it to work as well as we can. Our memories are largely based around things that affected us emotionally. We remember how we felt at the time and the events associated with it. The more we can feel what our body is telling us and how it’s reacting, the easier it is to ground, regulate, feel safe and connected.

We can find out so much by listening to what our body is doing right now, in this moment.

  • If you take your awareness to your breathing, how are you actually breathing right now? Try not to be judgmental, just be curious.
  • Follow a few breaths in and out, how slow or fast is it?
  • How deep or shallow is your breathing?
  • Where can you feel the movement as you breathe?
  • Do you notice any criticism coming up? Any negative thoughts like, you should be breathing deeper? Try to put any negative thoughts to one side. Your breathe is working, it does this all day and never stops, without your help.

You can also try thinking about something that you really like:

  • Picture it, remember all the things you like about it.
  • Now follow a few breaths as you picture it, has your breathing changed?
  • Has it deepened or expanded? If it has, would you be willing to give your breathing this nice image once a day so it can breathe deeper?
  • If not, why not? Ask yourself what’s stopping you? It could give you a clue about your relationship to yourself and your body.

If you don’t want to give your body something that resonates as a good experience, then you may have beliefs about not deserving good things. You may believe that anything good has to be earned the hard way. Whatever your response is, it may reveal a lot about your relationship with your body and therefore yourself.

Building a relationship with our body is about finding ways to connect and feel into it, getting used to noticing and paying attention to it. The more we can listen, the easier it becomes to look after it and know what it needs. The better connection we have with our body, the easier it becomes to improve our relationship to it.

Our senses can be a good gateway of waking up the connection in a mindful way. By mindful, we mean something being felt purely as a sensation rather that what we think or believe about the sensation. When we use our senses it’s easier to be curious. If we take temperature, and use hot and cold, we can close our eyes and feel the sensations of hot and cold through our hands or feet. We can feel how these two sensations gets relayed through our body to our brain. You can then ask yourself how you know if you prefer one to the other. What is it about these sensations that is comfortable or not so comfortable? We can do the same with smell. Being curious what it is about certain smells that we like or don’t like. We can notice how our body responds and reacts to different smells. Our relationship to these things can help us explore the whole concept of a relationship, why some things are pleasurable and some are not, all of which is experienced through our body.

If we can learn to read and trust what our bodies are telling us, then it can really help us know what’s good for us and how we really feel about certain decisions we are making. It’s such a different and clearer process than just trying to work things out in our head. Often we make a decision but have no idea how we will feel when we act on the decision. If we could visualise the enactment, then we will have a much better idea of how we’re going to feel once we’ve done it.

So many phrases are based on body experiences, that’s no coincidence. ‘It sent shivers down my spine’, ‘it made me sick to my stomach’, ‘I should have listened to my gut’. If we really want to listen to our gut, we have to be able to listen to what our gut is telling us. The better relationship we have with our body, the more likely we are to trust it, and not just let our head override what we are feeling.

This doesn’t dumb us down or take anything away from our clever brains, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a bit like, instead of having a two dimensional take on things, now you have three or more dimensions. Who wouldn’t want that?