Tag Archives: psychotherapy

Blow Me Away

imagesPeanut butter on crackers was the closest I came to meditating today. Sometimes just chewing and daydreaming does the trick. Today’s chewing found me pondering the perils of marketing my workshops.

I’m going to be a little lazy here and lean on generalizations, but having heralded from a British mother and an American father and having lived in both countries, I began to wonder if 50% of my cells are programmed for polite modesty, while the remaining half are bursting with bravado?

And if that really is the case, then how do I convey my authentic message humbly without sounding arrogant or too loud?

And then suddenly a memory popped into my head… something I hadn’t thought about in a long while, but was obviously still loitering in my psyche waiting to pounce.

I was on a job interview for a position in the counselling department of a university in London, just a few months after completing my psychotherapy training. The man who was interviewing me was wearing a waistcoat and jeans. I can picture him now. He looked gentle and approachable, and I was sitting opposite him when he asked,

“So Rory, what are the strengths you will bring to this job?”

I liked the question. It was both direct and relevant, and I begin to list some of what I considered to be my most effective counselling attributes. I had just completed a rigorous training and was finally learning how to ‘own my strengths’ rather than consistently denigrate myself.

And then this happened.

I paused, and the man held up his hand. Like a stop sign.

“Right, well I get the idea, you wouldn’t want to blow your own trumpet now would you?”

I recall feeling stunned by his statement and blanketed in shame. I looked down at my black lace-up boots. They certainly didn’t appear too small for me, in fact I thought they fit very comfortably, but in a short and sharp second this man had reminded me otherwise. His words struck a familiar yet muted chord and it sounded something like this: Don’t get too big for those boots, missy. Don’t be TOO much. Shrink. Blend. Don’t call attention to yourself. Shhhh. Leave it up to others more capable. Sit back.

In therapy we talk about clients being influenced by their unconscious. Looking back, I wonder if that so called ‘enlightened’ male therapist in the waistcoat and jeans, was actually being driven that morning by a wayward force out of his awareness; a rusty paradigm that for years has kept women ‘in their rightful place’.

I am the daughter of a powerful mother who fought in the 1970’s to carve out a successful niche for herself in the then male dominated world of fiction, and remains there forty years later. I come from determined creative stock, and yet on the day that I was told to keep my trumpet quiet, it was the reverberations of my grandmothers’ struggles that I recognized in the quickened pace of my heart.

I felt a sudden kinship with the previous generations of women in my family who had been shaped by a patriarchal society – an environment where women’s strengths were swept under the carpets they were cleaning, and trumpet blowing was definitely out of the question.

So what did I learn from being baited to brag, only to be painfully hooked for my boldness?

I learned that trumpet blowing, tempered with humility, is essential – for women and men alike.

Not the ‘look at me on Instagram!” mode of trumpet blowing. Nor the Facebook friend foraging frenzy. But the kind of trumpet blowing which requires true introspection and self reflection. The kind of trumpet blowing which takes time and patience and commitment, until it becomes lucid and clear. The kind of trumpet blowing which might involve sitting still with ourselves after the peanut butter crackers and hearing our own repetitive tunes, and then finding the courage to write some new notes.

My trumpet sings: I am a really really good listener. I’m very intuitive and I’m excellent at encouraging people. I also have this special knack for helping others unthread tangles. And I’m NOT afraid to say it!

I guess that’s the only ‘marketing campaign’ I need after all. A united front. The British and American parts of me meeting over the ocean on a starry ship’s deck, soaking up a unique jazz blend. My own fusion of truths.

It doesn’t really matter what any of our trumpets sound like. What matters is that we are brave enough to play them, even in the face of those who tell us not to. What matters is that we polish them until they shine, and we make a sturdy case to protect our precious instruments. What matters is that we reveal our treasures, rather than toss them overboard where they will sink, never to be found.

So imagine that I’m interviewing you now and I ask YOU what your strengths are. But before you answer, I pass you a permission slip. The letters are LARGE and colourful. The words release you.

PLAY YOUR TRUMPET AS LOUDLY AS YOU WISH! BLOW ME AWAY

 

Writing Prompt: Ten minutes on your strengths. If you’ve never done this before, reflect on why it feels so hard. Whose voice is holding a finger to your lips quieting you down?  Be tender with yourself. Care for your strengths and be curious as to where they can lead you. Stay aware of your surroundings. Listen to your tune…what’s stuck? Where does your rhythm need to change?

 

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Every Person’s Life

photo-14 copy 3

In 1987 renowned Gestalt psychotherapist, Erving Polster, wrote a book called “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel”.  In this book he writes:

Stories must not only be told, but also heard. What is said gains value from the listeners understanding…

He goes on to write:

We also use stories to join our lives with those of other people…

I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the founders of a remarkable and powerful new venture called Narrative 4 begun by writers, artists and educators who are passionate about ‘hearing’ and ‘joining’. Narrative 4 aims to enable teenagers globally to come together to exchange stories as a tool for social change. The exchange is intended to be literal – an ultimate act of reflection. The idea is for the young people to swap stories and then read each other’s stories aloud to one another – to allow words to transcend all differences and thread together human experience.  The stated ethos of Narrative 4 is: 

We believe sharing stories is the key to opening the world. We call it ‘Fearless hope through radical empathy’

I call it inspired.

We all crave an attuned listener. We carry our stories with us deep in our pockets, etched on our hearts, buried in hidden places. Sometimes our stories are legible, easy to read, but sometimes it is as if they are written on the wet wall of a dark cave and we spend years waiting for someone to strike a match.

And when the day finally comes, the sudden exposure can be glaring. The attention can call forth panic, anxiety, shame, trepidation, but ultimately relief. We want to be heard. We need to be seen. And even the small flickering flame from a single match can shed enough light for us to look around and realize that we are not alone with our stories. Sharing our truths is an act of healing.

I’ve experienced this firsthand both as a client and a therapist. Every week in my workshop I listen intently as participants grow brave enough to write their stories and offer them up to the group. We are not there to assess or critique or shape or edit. We are there to listen. People come to Write To Be You to be seen and heard, and to see and hear. I am humbled by the courage of my participants and I am witness to the bonds that powerfully and delicately ‘join’ us through story, encouraging self worth, enabling understanding, embracing recovery.

I am often amazed at how few questions people ask in social situations. Is it that we are bound by decorum not wanting to appear nosey? Or is it that so many people are wrapped  tightly in their own inward facing cocoon that it doesn’t occur to them to reach beyond that and explore another’s landscape?

Questions are essential to social interactions, and yet contemporary technology encourages a ‘me’ centred paradigm where our young people are at risk of becoming voyeurs and not listeners. Let’s encourage curiosity in ourselves and younger generations. Next time you meet someone you don’t know, practice drawing out their story. Be interested. See what you can learn about yourself by listening to someone else.

And while you’re at it, please join me in exploring and supporting Narrative 4 as a dedicated group of individuals step up to link our ever divided world. Personal narratives are thirsty for oxygen, buried within us they can fester and wilt. Now more than ever we need to return to the ancient arts and allow them to work their communal magic alongside technology.

It is not only in recent years that the most essential tales told have gone ‘viral’…  the passage and momentum of storytelling has been with us from the beginning of time. We just need to keep breathing fresh air into stale corners and lighting that match in the darkest of caves.

Read about the origins of Narrative 4 by clicking HERE and visit their website HERE

A writing prompt inspired by Narrative 4: Write about discovering a story on the wall of a cave. Who has been there before you? What is the writing on the wall? Imagine you are illuminated by the light of the match. Tell both of your stories. Give yourself permission to write in fragments, dream images, floating words. Feel your way…

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A Small Window

When I first started writing ‘Playing Along’ I did so as an antidote to the heaviness of my ‘other’ work. I had recently completed my masters degree in psychotherapy and I was working with individual clients – adults and children – all with a range of emotional hurdles and difficulties. I saw a six year old child for a year who was a ‘selective mute’. He had stopped talking in public having lost his mother at an early age when his language was first developing. I worked with that child for a year and he never said one word to me. But he always smiled, and we played together, and we drew together, and by the end of the therapy, he was writing pages and pages of story – conveying his pain and confusion through imagination – engaging with me in the only way he knew how.

I saw children whose parents had all but abandoned them, adults who were wracked with phobias, women who had suffered sexual abuse. The work was extremely rewarding and could also be extremely draining. Psychotherapy is never a quick fix – it’s a long and often arduous journey.

So on the days I wasn’t seeing clients, a sweet, lighthearted, romance, was unravelling on my screen. It was my tonic. A salve to sooth the darker aspects of my work. An opportunity for me to escape into a world where lead singers fall in love with their fans and destiny trumps reality.

I needed that space. It helped me to be more present for my clients. And my clients helped me to be more present for my characters.

Despite the fact I was writing a ‘breezy ‘ read – I still wanted George and Lexi and all their family and freinds to have dimension. I wanted them to be people that you, as the reader, could relate to and might want to know.

News wise this has been another oppressively desolate week. We are all asking ‘could things get any worse?’ and we don’t want to hear the answer. We share a collective grief which is washing over us in waves. Rightly so we are becoming involved in dialogues about gun control, mental health care and accountability.

My heart is beating at home, moving through the motions of my day, but my heart has also travelled to Newton, where it sits silently with all those bereft, sending out love and solidarity.

I questioned whether today was the day to post an excerpt from ‘Playing Along’ and I decided for all the reasons above – that it was.

I wrote the book in the first place to provide a small window of escape. Even in our darkest hours, carving out space for lightness and humour can be a soothing reminder of hope. So if you need a break from reading the news or watching the television, take a few minutes and get to know George and Lexi. They helped balance me out when I was searching for relief.

(If you want to skip the excerpt and save yourself for the book, please scroll down to the writing prompt at the bottom!)

PLAYING ALONG

by Rory Samantha Green

THEN

GEORGE, 1st November, 1994, Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire

“Your brother’s grown up a bit, hasn’t he?”

George holds his breath when he hears these words swoop past his bedroom door. He’s thirteen, but his sister is two years older and her friends are an enigma.  They smell like grapefruit and cigarettes and layer mascara on their lashes until they look like pandas.  Most of them have boobs.  Big ones.  He’s fascinated by the divide.  George’s sister, Polly, has maybe said one word to him in the last two weeks and that was muttered in disdain when he had mistakenly knocked her make-up brush off the counter and into the toilet.  It had floated forlornly in the bowl like a drowned rodent.

“Arsehole!”

But now there’s a chance of redemption.  Despite his skinny legs and spotty rounded face, it seems as if one of the awesome grapefruit girls has noticed something in him.  Something unique.  He reckons it will take a very special woman to appreciate his nuances.  His love of Grover from Sesame Street (so underrated – why did Kermit get all the limelight?) and his adoration of the most amazing music the universe has to offer – Bowie, U2, Portishead, Dylan, New Order.  The woman who takes his heart must take his record collection as well.

“My brother?” replies Polly in dramatic shock.  “Yeah, you could say he’s grown up – into a first rate troll.”

The grapefruit girls giggle and their laughter snakes under his door and rings painfully in his ears.  George bites his bottom lip, scraping his teeth against peeling skin. Another nervous habit.

“And listen to this… he claims one day he’s going to be in a famous band and be on the cover of NME and have groupies.  What a joke!”

George, prepared for the inevitable cackle of mockery, grabs his headphones and his CD player and presses play with an urgency.  “Fools Gold” by the Stone Roses floods his brain.  He turns up the volume as loud as it will go and hurls his notebook across the room where it ricochets off the wall and slides under his bed.  The notebook is filled with songs.  George has been unpacking heartache from his sensitive soul since the age of ten.

His sister’s harsh words are never as brutal as the words he calls himself.

He knows what he wants, but he’s pretty damn certain that a boy like him is never going to get it.

LEXI, November 1st, 1994, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California

“I’m psyched about the game tomorrow!”  Andrew enthusiastically polishes off his second burrito, gazing longingly at Lexi across the table.  She smiles at him mischievously knowing that she drives him crazy with her Juicy Fruit breath, her shiny brown hair, and her legs which have conveniently slimmed out and toned up since she started diligently attending an after school kickboxing class.

“I’m excited too,” she replies, playfully nudging his size twelve basketball shoes under the table.  “I hope you win, so we can celebrate.”

Lexi and Andrew are the couple at Pali High.  Just embarking on their senior year, they have been an item since the eleventh grade.  Andrew first kissed Lexi on Zuma beach with the waves lapping at their bare feet two nights after passing his driving test.  His parents had given him a convertible Mustang for his sixteenth birthday and when he drove her home, one hand on the wheel, the other holding hers, Lexi had a sweet taste lingering in her mouth and salty wind in her hair.

“So unfair,” her best friend, Meg, had complained the following morning.  “It’s not supposed to happen like that.  He’s supposed to drool, or run out of gas, or step on your toe or something.  Why is your life like an Audrey Hepburn movie and mine like a bad TV sitcom?”

And Lexi certainly didn’t want to be smug, but there was some truth in Meg’s observation.  Things just seemed to go her way.  Her parents had raised her to believe in herself and face life with a positive outlook.  Not that she was syrupy or self-obsessed.   She worked hard at her studies and had an excellent Grade Point Average.  She volunteered at a local homeless shelter, fingerpainting with vulnerable kids after school.  She’d started up a current events debate club in her junior year and persuaded many of her friends to join.  They now competed nationally.  Oh and of course, she kickboxed and played on the girls’ volleyball team, and thankfully had the sort of hair that didn’t frizz on damp mornings when the fog rolled in off the coast.

Lexi had lost her virginity to Andrew on the floor in his bedroom on a Sunday afternoon while his parents shopped at Target.  He had lit a scented candle stolen from his mother’s bathroom, and the smell of orange mimosa flooded the room.  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by UB40 was playing on his CD player.

When it was over (slightly painful, but not nearly as uncomfortable as she had imagined), he leaned on his elbows beside her and whispered in her ear, “I can’t help falling in love with you…” One year later, sitting opposite him watching him wipe guacamole from the side of his lips, Lexi feels in her heart that she loves him too.  In fact she is sure, along with almost everyone else at Pali High who either knows them or admires them from afar, that they will most likely end up getting married.  Lexi’s mother has saved her own wedding dress for the occasion, wrapped in delicate layers of archival tissue in an ivory box on the top shelf of her cupboard.  “It’s just waiting, my beauty,” her mother has promised.

Lexi can picture their home now (a cozy New England style house, a few blocks from her parents, with whitewashed floors and shabby chic couches), two or maybe three kids (she really doesn’t have a preference for boys or girls) and most definitely a dog, a black Labrador called George.  She imagines a fulfilling and creative part time job as well, maybe a teacher or an art therapist, something that leaves her with the freedom to be a hands-on mom.  So what if she is only seventeen?  It’s just a dream, but life has already proven to Lexi that dreams do find a way of coming true.

NOW

GEORGE, 1st November, 2009, Greenwich, England

“George… I love you!”  On certain nights this professed love is yelled out a hundred times from men and women alike.  Most nights it disappears into the roar of the crowd, but at some gigs a single voice will miraculously separate out and hover above the throng of faceless fans and George hears it and needs it to be true.

George is at the piano finishing the final chords of “Beyond Being,” a poignant ballad based on his teenage existential musings and a lyric which popped into his head one day as he polished off a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The audience sways in time and cell phones punctuate the blackness like rechargeable flames.  George hangs his head as the song comes to a quiet end, his voice wavering with a sad clarity.

Thousands of fans cheer and whoop in adoration and George looks up shyly with his trademark grin.  “Thank you very much for coming.  We appreciate you might have better things to do with your Saturday nights, like watching X Factor, and the boys and I really enjoyed playing to you tonight…”  This, as intended, whips up the crowd into an even louder frenzy as George and his band mates lope off the stage with a schoolboy charm that has captivated fans across the world from Denmark to Chile, and every destination in between.

George has come a long way from the corner of his brown bedroom.  His band, Thesis, stormed onto the music scene with an unstoppable force after his best mate and guitarist, Simon Ogden-Smith, persuaded George to start up a Myspace page and stream some of their music. George, Simon, Simon’s cousin Mark, and Mark’s sister’s friend Duncan from Australia, had been playing local pubs in Islington and had been slowly building up a loyal fan base.  But the Myspace page catapulted them into a whole new stratosphere, and with a swiftness which at times found George’s throat closing with unprecedented anxiety, they burst onto the alternative music scene and made their mark.  Three months after being signed by a record company they were flown to Los Angeles to record their first album, Twelve Thousand Words.  George Bryce, still a sweaty lonely teenager at heart, found himself surrounded by attractive, fawning women called Claudia and Agnes and Nell.  They willingly offered their breasts to him without any pleading involved and he indulged in a whole new adolescence at twenty-two.

The band’s first big hit was a rocking anthem called “Grapefruit Girls,” an opportunity for George to get his revenge on those elusive females who had inducted him into the hall of shame.  George became an unlikely heartthrob, a self-deprecating lad who wore T-shirts with Grover on them and gave interviews about obscure comic books and rare vinyl.  His boyish looks, lopsided smile and thick shaggy black hair, once his greatest insecurity, suddenly became irresistible.  Even America, notoriously hard to break for an unheard-of alternative band, lapped up the accents and the awkwardness.  Critics either loved or hated Thesis and George made a point of reading every review, because no matter how famous they became, he never stopped caring about what people thought of him.

COMING IN JANUARY 2013!

Thank you for joining me on this writing adventure! I began my love of writing by hiding my words. I was a ‘closet’ writer. I’m out now and I encourage you to do the same!

Share something in the comments. Today’s prompt: take ten minutes to write about where you find lightness during periods of dark? Where can you access healthy relief and release?

I am taking a week off for the holidays so until we meet again…  peace, blessings and gratitude from me to you xo

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“Who Still Serves Consomme?”

Last week I wrote about holding onto conflicted feelings and my best friend, Karen, shared this beautiful response:

I just spent two hours ripping through dusty boxes from a storage unit that we finally emptied after ignoring it for seven years. I came across some treasures. The kind you love, but you can also live without, and even totally forget ever existed. I found my children’s tiny hand prints dipped in paint and made to look like turkeys for thanksgiving day. I wanted to keep them and throw them out all at the same time. Same with my grandmother’s china. What will I ever do with eight gold plated consomme bowls and matching saucers? Who still serves consomme? I wanted to smash them to the ground at the same time I was holding them gently up to the light appreciating their delicate craftsmanship. If all this had burned in a fire I would have been better off. Now I’m having to decided where it all goes. Recycling, the shredder, the thrift store, my already full kitchen shelves? Or worse, back in the box to live in our basement.

My favorite line in her response was “Who still serves consomme?”

It struck me as so funny and so accurate. I have actually also been sifting through ‘old stuff’ recently in an attempt to liberate some space in my garage. I stumbled across a once precious journal, tied tightly with bright coloured ribbons – a silver unicorn dancing on the cover. The pages were heavy with heartache. The pain of trying to fit in. The blinding intensity of middle school and high school friendships. The longing for the life I felt I ‘should’ be living. Excruciating analysis both of myself and every person around me (perhaps a precursor to the psychotherapy route I would choose as an adult!)

Scattered amongst the words were concert ticket stubs and carefully transcribed lyrics.  From that tender age, I found empathy in music and I found release in writing. That hasn’t changed about me. But many other things have, and as I flicked through my journal, I understood on a deep level that it was time to let it go… or in Karen’s words, who still serves consomme?

Research has proven that writing down our emotions can be hugely cathartic. But the act alone can be enough. Revisiting those feelings repeatedly in the future or exposing those feelings unintentionally to people they might wound or confuse isn’t useful. 

My revelations were written for no one else to see. That journal was my private refuge, and leaving it lurking around in my garage for my children to discover one day felt like a betrayal to my middle school self. That book served a purpose at a certain time in my life, but that purpose has long since expired.

So I photographed a few key pages. I kissed the cover.  And I set that unicorn free!

The next morning I thought I might regret this brazen act of pack rat defiance.

But I didn’t.

I have been writing profusely since I could use a pen. I have written journals and letters and cards and fiction and poetry and short stories and articles and blogs and essays and a dissertation and a novel. I hope to write thousands of more words to come – but do I need to preserve every one of those words?

No.

Sometimes there can be tremendous value in the process taking precedent over the product.

If you want to explore the subject of ‘letting go’ further, please visit a fellow writer and blogger, Erin Kurup, at her site remadebyhand.com – she is an inspiring role model!

Are you a word hoarder?! If so, I am giving you permission to divest yourself of some of those words which might be weighing you down. I’m guessing this is a controversial topic! But why not give it a try? Create a ritual. Tear up an old journal, school essay or half baked short story. This non attachment will also help you tackle the editing process. OR try writing something now that you never want anyone to see, ever, and then delete it immediately or burn it. Notice how you feel…

Report back, and in the meantime – thoughts on this post? I’m curious to know where you stand?

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On Being a Hopeful Cynic

I’m having difficulty landing on a subject today. I have lots of themes jostling for attention in my head, and to complicate matters, I have a cold. Every time I sneeze it’s as if I am violently launching my most recent thought into the universe, never to be retrieved again.  So I’m in this weird position of feeling full and empty all at the same time.

Does that ever happen to you? You find yourself suddenly having to hold onto contradictory feelings? Grateful and bitter? Bored and stimulated? Morose and upbeat?

We’re complex beings, us humans, and sometimes our internal landscapes are not so manicured.

Sometimes they are overgrown, unruly, in need of a mow. Sometimes bright wild flowers blossom in the midst and we find ourselves questioning what needs weeding and what can remain.

For the past few weeks I have been occupied again with the novel I wrote last year, ‘Playing Along’. I have been toying with self publishing and the toying has slowly inched towards action. It was in fact the rejection of that very novel which led to the creation of Write To Be You… so I am strangely thankful to the very same people who this time last year were responsible for wilting my heart. I now have the distance and the insight to understand this as a rite of passage for most aspiring novelists. You can read the backstory by clicking here.

(On a side note – It seems this post has made up its mind. It’s definitely maybe about conflicting feelings. I think.)

So I have spent the last month working towards a goal — preparing to finally release my words and my beloved characters into the world. And I feel ready and reticent all in the same breath. I feel confident and cowering.

I’m a hopeful cynic – immensely excited by my book, but dubious of being overly enthusiastic for fear of  flailing

I’m the sort of person who is wary of those letters tucked into holiday cards – you know the ones – proudly listing the achievements of each and every family member including the dog. I’m left wondering – where’s the shadow? What about the child who is struggling at school? Or the teenager who is battling his parents? Or the dog who is crapping on the carpet? How would that letter read?!

Maybe it’s the therapist in me. I’m all for celebrating our achievements, but I’m also drawn towards the complexities in life, a predilection completely at odds with the tenants behind the self-promotion needed for self-publication:

Become a soundbite!

Run through the hallways of the wild web waving a banner declaring “Drink me! Read this!”

Enlist thousand of fans with your unwavering self belief.

Okay. Okay. We all get the picture. Even me.

So I will be telling you more about ‘Playing Along’ – my sweet, quirky, romantic comedy, before it makes its Amazon debut in November.

And I will be showing off the cover (which is currently a pretty cool work in progress).

And I will be hopefully tempting you with excerpts from the book.

But until then, I have blog posts to write, reluctant writers to inspire, workshops to run, and let’s not forget – dog crap to dispose of.

 

Write about contradictory feelings…Which aspects of this post can you relate to?

or

Paint a picture in words of your current internal landscape. If you were taking a tour of these gardens – what might you find? Be specific. Call upon yours senses – smell, sight, taste, touch and sound.

Join me in being brave and share your words. You are not alone in your hesitancy…

 

 

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Me and My Shadow

photograph by Denis Sinyakov

Walking with my dog, Lilly, in the sunshine this week, I noticed our shadows strolling in front of us … attached… dark faceless companions paving our way. I began to reflect on the word ‘shadow’ and how it’s been showing up in my life recently, nudging me cunningly.

Only a few days ago while purging clutter in my garage, I stumbled across an old diary entry from my sophomore year, bemoaning a night out with a friend.

 “She gets so much attention. I always feel like I’m in her shadow…”

It was a familiar story and one I told myself for years. It went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crossed eyes and thick-rimmed glasses. She felt she could never compare to the beautiful princesses and queens surrounding her, so she lived in their shadows instead. She wrote in the darkness. She avoided the light, closing her eyes from the glare of the golden tiaras that sparkled brightly around her…

The thing about that story is that it was destined to end sadly, until I made the decision to alter it. I knew I couldn’t change the beginning, but I could affect the middle and the end. I could create fresh dialogue and play with new themes. I could step cautiously out of the shade cast by others and get to know my own shadow instead.

We all can.

Carl Jung, who explored the concept of the ‘shadow’ and how it relates to the human psyche, wrote in 1946 “The man who recognizes his shadow knows very well that he is not harmless…”

Shadow aspects of self are dark and dank. They reside in the mouldy basement of our unconscious where ill wishes and self harm fester and breed. Like a viscous dog foaming at the mouth, our shadow aspects are just waiting to be cruel, and that ferocity is as easily directed inwards as it is outwards.

Once I started examining my own shadow, rather than living in the confines of other people’s, I began to understand my spiteful urge to blame others for my lack of momentum. It was a valuable insight.

Self-sabotage can become addictive until you wrangle it with your awareness. Confronting your shadow head on can diminish its powers – like Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West, there may be momentary triumphs when we watch our shadows shrivel.

But unlike the witch, our shadows will never completely vanish. They are licensed to linger.

Coming to terms with our darkest aspects means accepting their presence rather than imagining we can permanently enforce their absence.

Like the prolonged political promise to ‘wage a war on terror’, the battle is one that will never ultimately be won, because wherever there is lightness, darkness is not far away. It is an age old, archetypal, unsettling truth.  The two are inextricably linked.

So drink up the darkness. Walk with your shadow and become familiar with its wily ways. You’ll be surprised how many tales you both have to tell…

 

Write for ten minutes on the word ‘shadow’

or

Give your shadow a voice. Create a dialogue between the dark aspects of your self and the lighter elements. What needs to be said? Who is louder? How could you introduce more equilibrium? If your shadow was an animal what would it be?

Let’s uncover these demons… gather them together here…

 

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Unpacking

Photograh by Mr Woodnz

My family and I moved from London to Los Angeles almost exactly two years ago. While packing up our lives, I found myself unpacking a plethora of feelings related to change, loss, endings, beginnings, doubt.  I was showered in sadness. I cried so often that looking back it’s hard to believe through those tears I managed to cope with all the practical tasks. I was a soggy mess. Our boxes arrived in Los Angeles stained with my teardrops – a reminder of my emotional confetti.

Moving is incredibly challenging and as human beings we are frequently confronting displacement and relocation in various guises. Moving house. Moving country. Moving school.  Moving jobs. Moving relationships. Many people package up their feelings about these ‘moves’ along with their external belongings. Sadness gets taped up. Fear gets shoved in a side pocket. Anxiety gets filed away in a folder titled ‘UNHELPFUL’. And we forge ahead, still in possession of these feelings, but desperately hoping that concealing them will make them less potent.

In England we call this a ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. But isn’t it true that we have all seen that ‘rigid’ lip wreak havoc in many ways, in many countries, translated into many languages?

Repressing profound emotional states can have major repercussions. Feelings that have been filed away, unprocessed, have ways of finding the oxygen they need. They follow us through life, festering, waiting to leak out like toxic fumes or explode into billowing clouds of anger. Or simply collapse, leaving us in fragile heaps.

I know from experience that people are afraid of revealing too much emotion. Keeping it safely hidden away feels so much tidier. But release can take different shapes for different people. You don’t have to have a personality transplant. Find ways to gently tap into your feelings if they have been locked up for a while. Choose a friend who you trust. Consider talking to a counsellor or a therapist. Buy yourself a notebook and begin to write or draw. Creative expression is boundless and free and is available to everyone. But firstly, you must be willing to explore.

Two years on I feel more lucid and centered. I’m rediscovering a sense of being ‘placed’ internally and externally. Facing, rather than avoiding my grief about leaving, has helped me to arrive in each day, to stay authentic, and to feel empowered by my emotions, instead of endowing them all the power to overthrow me.

How does this post resonate with you? Write about a significant ‘move’ in your life and explore the feelings around it. Write for ten minutes. Time yourself. Share any thoughts or responses in the comments.

 

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Hold Me Now

Some mornings my daughter feels wobbly, and separating from me and the comforts of home is suddenly daunting. On those days, I promise to send her mind mail. The thought of an invisible envelope arriving in her head in the hours to come, full of Mummy love and swirly hugs and kisses, calms her considerably. In that moment I am reassuring her that I will keep her in my thoughts. Warmly. Securely. I might not be able to place my hand on her shoulder, or stroke her hair, but I can ‘hold’ her in a different way.

Being held in mind is a vital psychological component to all attachment relationships.


Genuinely holding someone in your mind spins delicate, transparent threads of intimacy across even the widest gaps, deepening confidence and trust.

Psychotherapists and others working in the healing professions have learnt to understand the potency of holding clients in mind between sessions. During the days that bridge our meetings, I make a point of remembering words written by my group, creating a special ‘holding’ space for them in my thoughts.

Energetically, we feel the difference. When I was a lovesick teenager waiting a whole summer for the boy I was besotted by to send a letter across an ocean, the disappointment ran achingly deep. Not only because I felt rejected, but more accurately because I felt completely forgotten. I knew he was not cradling me anywhere in his heart. It was as if I had evaporated.

Maintaining relationships can at times feel overwhelming… despite technology providing so many more opportunities to do so.  Ironically, finding ways to feel truly ‘connected’ to others can remain elusive.

Begin by hosting a quiet gathering in your mind. Be choiceful about who you invite in. Offer them something sweet (the best part is you can do all of this lying down on the sofa with your feet up and your eyes closed!) Put the Beach Boys on your i-pod dock, look around the room, make eye contact with all your guests and open your arms for hugs. Once you begin to send out the Good Vibrations, I believe you are more susceptible to accepting them back in return.

This exercise might lead to a phone call. A spontaneous text. An overdue email. Even a quick ‘like’ on Facebook of a post you appreciated but passed by. Who knows, it might even lead to writing a real letter with a real pen and real paper. But ultimately, what it will achieve is not so precise, not so easily pinned down.  It is an unspoken gesture. A feathery kiss blown to an unaware recipient. A silent murmur of friendship and love.

A powerful affirmation of emotional bonds.

Write for Ten Minutes using the title of this post as a prompt – Hold Me Now. Don’t edit, just let the words and feelings rise to the surface.
I am always here… holding this space… waiting to listen… willing to hear whatever you need to write.
Share in the comments…

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The Games We Played

Growing up in the 70’s & 8o’s we always had one cupboard stuffed with board games. Piled up boxes splitting at the corners and bulging at the seams because the components had been hurriedly shoved inside at the close of the previous encounter. There was no replicating that first fresh glimpse of a new board game… everything sitting pristinely in its own compartment… obediently claiming a space.

The plastic playing pieces separated from the dice next to the the cards immaculately ordered with satisfying straight edges next to the board folded perfectly at the crease sitting neatly on top of the marbles or the straws or the money arranged by amount and colour or the spinner with the arrow still firmly intact.

After that very first ‘opening’ inevitable packaging chaos ensued. It didn’t matter how hard you tried… things would never fit back into that box in quite the same way ever again.

But that was all part of the fun.

Little did I know that the many hours wiled away playing those games were prepping me for my uncertain future as an adult.

TWISTER – awkward entanglements.

MONOPLOY- property dilemmas (should we or shouldn’t we?) and the terrifying white envelopes containing those first bills (Really? I have NO money in the bank? Didn’t I just pass GO??)

CLUEDO (CLUE in the USA) – the toxicity of gossip and the constant speculation about the lives of others, “Do you really think Miss Scarlet did it in the kitchen with the led pipe? Just last week we were hanging out in the library with Professor Plum and she was going on and on about the candlestick. Who knew?!”

OPERATION – the confirmation of my lack of hand/eye co-ordination and my leaning towards psychotherapy. All I really wanted was to ask that poor, naked guy, “So tell me, how do you feel about this relentless bodily intrusion?”

MASTERMIND –  how to communicate with people who like to keep things hidden.

FRUSTRATION (TROUBLE in the USA) – the reminder that  life is just one great big pop-o-matic dome and you can waste forever wishing for a 6. Even so… your only choice is to keep on popping.

CONNECT FOUR – the satisfaction when things fall into place.

And finally KER PLUNK – my most beloved game. Ker Plunk taught me that sometimes you just have to take a risk. Pull that straw. Hold your breath.

And wait to hear the marbles…

What memories do you have of board games you played as a child? Write for ten minutes. Roll the dice and see what arrives… share in the comments!

 

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Next week I’m leaving my computer.

It’s just a trial separation.  It’s something we’ve been considering for a while now. I’ve begun to notice we make each other edgy.  I’m aware of a disturbing co-dependancy. An unhealthy pull. As if the world would be trickier to navigate without my trusty device. My computer reluctantly agrees with me.  He’s been showing signs of stress recently – spinning aimlessly in a tiny circular rainbow for minutes on end.  Not listening to me. Refusing to cooperate.  I’ve been ‘forced to quit’ him one too many times over the last few weeks.

So we’re breaking up. Temporarily. What options do I have? I could go old skool and ask each of you reading for your snail mail and send you my posts in the post?  Maybe not. I wouldn’t get very much ‘reach’ that way. I’ve been reading a lot about ‘reach’ lately… how we bloggers should be aiming to impact as many people as possible in any one moment.

All I imagine when I hear the word ‘reach’ are the arms of a child, stretching up, looking to be held.

Attachment Theory tells us that we are hard wired to crave connection. My apple is hard wired for many things, except human emotion. When I whispered to my monitor yesterday evening, “It’s not you…it’s me,” I really meant it.  I need to detach from the lure of the screen. He, on the other, just kept humming.

Will my reader care? Will you look forward to my words upon my return? Hold me in mind? Isn’t that why we revisit our various accounts so often? Checking views and clicks and comments and followers.

We are searching for validation.  Needing to be needed.

The hunger to know ‘do I matter to you?’ lies at the core of all our attachment systems. The attachment relationship we establish with our mother, father and/or significant care givers when we are babies defines the way we relate for the rest of our lives. Even how writers relate to their ‘audience’.

So I’m going. Only for a week. I’ll be taking my notebook and a pen (keep this on the down low – I don’t want Mac getting jealous) I’m going to discover how days with my family might unfold without tapping and typing, scrolling and ‘liking’.  (I’ve also intervened in my teenage son’s unsuitable relationship. I never liked that laptop anyway…)

I’m trusting you’ll be here reading when I get back, unless of course I’ve inspired you to have the “I need some time on my own” conversation as well.

Either way.  I’ll keep writing when the holiday is over.  Keep striving to ‘reach’. Arms poised up and open, waiting for that glimpse of recognition, that melting feeling that comes with the promise of touch.

If you would like to read more about Attachment Theory, John Bowlby, alongside Mary Ainsworth, was one of the first psychotherapists to identify it. He wrote a seminal  trilogy of books beginning with ‘Attachment’ in 1969.

What comes to mind when you hear the word attachment? Write a poem beginning each line with the words “I am attached to…”

Do you too need a trial separation from your electronic lovers?! Share in the comments section… 

 

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