You can’t pour from an empty cup

Putting fuel in our tank

Most people seek help through counselling or therapy at a time of difficulty or distress in their lives. However, just as in the realm of physical medicine doctors and researchers now place great emphasis on preventative approaches, the growth of positive psychology has shone light on proactive steps we can take to develop more psychologically healthy lives. There are many useful practices we can adopt with this goal in mind. In this short article, I focus on one which I think – while being extremely important – can also present a major challenge.

If we imagine ourselves as a car and the tasks and responsibilities of our daily life as driving hours, it is clear that before long we will run out of fuel. Sound habits of healthy living, such as eating a varied and balanced diet, getting enough quality sleep, and taking regular exercise, all provide ‘fuel’ by tending to our essential physical needs. However, humans also have minds and emotions and what – for want of a suitable consensus term – we might instead call soul / spirit / heart / core self. This core self also requires ‘fuel’ and when we provide such fuel, feelings of zest, vitality, joy and contentment result.

The author, AS Byatt, who is also a wife, mother, and grandmother, said “I think of my writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life: making things. Much as I love my husband and children, I love them only because I am the person who makes things. Who I am is the person who has the project of making a thing. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all those other people.”

For me, this quote expresses perfectly the primary importance of our need to nourish ourselves – heart and soul – by pursuing the activities that make us feel the greatest joy, fulfilment, peace and pleasure. For AS Byatt, it is writing – for most of us it will be something else (or perhaps more than one thing). What activity makes you feel most deeply at peace or most fully and healthily alive? If you can’t think of something recent, how about in the past, or when you were a child? If nothing comes to mind, what activities have you ever found yourself feeling drawn to, even if you have never acted on that interest – and even if it seems silly, difficult or ‘not something you would do’?

The other important aspect of AS Byatt’s quote is that she says “because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all those other people”. This can feel unreasonable, radical, selfish, impossible…but deserves to be taken seriously. What if you made the activities that bring you the greatest joy and fulfilment a foundation stone of your everyday life? Take time to imagine what your life would be like if you lived like this and how you would feel. Can you see any ways that living like this would actually benefit the people you love and care for? What practical changes would you need to make for this to happen?    

Written by Laura Timms

MA Counselling and Psychotherapy; Reg. MBACP

10 ELEMENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE APOLOGY

Love Hand Excuse Me I'm Sorry Sorry Heart Filler

Apologies are a common and often unavoidable part of our communication in our personal and professional lives and can serve to either repair or worsen the damage to an already hurting relationship. As I support people in improving their relationships, I often see them struggling with this area – the person giving the apology is frustrated that it wasn’t accepted even though it was sincere and the person receiving the apology feels hurt that it just didn’t feel honest or meaningful. So in the process of teaching effective communication, I also educate them about the essential elements of an effective apology. While every individual will have their personal style, it can be useful keep the below points in mind when apologising. This would apply across different personal and professional relationships but for simplicity I have written this with reference to couples.

  1. LISTEN

The most important element of all communication is deep listening and it is essential in beginning the healing here as well so – pay attention, be present, be kind, be open and remember that the opposite person’s anger is likely stemming from hurt. Lower your barriers and allow yourself to be transparent and vulnerable so your sincerity can break through their defences and reach them. Let your partner express themselves fully and listen respectfully, attentively and without protest. Listen beyond the words being spoken to understand the feelings and needs being expressed.

  1. INTROSPECT

Please take time to reflect on whether you genuinely are sorry, and if your answer is yes, they why so. This introspection will allow your apology to be authentic and heartfelt rather than a formality. Do not use this moment to settles old scores or be vengeful; to make your partner understand how you feel when they wrong you or to show them their part in the problem. Many times both parties contribute to a problem, but do not use your apology as a platform to discuss that – it will sully it and defeat the purpose. Also remember that you’re not doing your partner a favour by obliging them with an apology (for e.g. “I said sorry, what more do you want?”).  It’s not a power struggle and the respect you give is the respect you will likely receive. A sincere apology reflects you as being someone who has courage and humility enough to own up to a mistake and try to fix it.

  1. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY & DON’T JUSTIFY

Take full responsibility as you show remorse and admit that you messed up – this takes the blame off the injured party and can help them put their defensive shields down and be willing to listen. Avoid explaining the reasons behind your behaviour unless your partner asks you as it often gets expressed as “yes, but” which can sound like a justification for the mistake – in effect diminishing your sense of responsibility towards it. This can feel like you are shifting the blame onto others or to circumstances. If your partner does seek to understand why you did what you did, mention the factual reasons without defending yourself, remembering that irrespective of the reason, you’re still responsible for the hurt that was caused.

  1. BE SPECIFIC

The word “sorry” is overused and can feel empty and meaningless as it doesn’t convey what you’re actually sorry for. So be specific – mention what was the mistake that you did and why you think it was wrong. Using ‘I statements’ can be helpful here.  Acknowledge and apologise for the damage and hurt that was caused by your actions and how it may have impacted your partner by way of practical inconveniences or emotional hurt and stress.

  1. BE EMPATHIC

Reflect empathy – take a moment to place yourself in your partner’s shoes and see the situation from their perspective. Share how you would have felt if you were in their place and validate their feelings. This can engender feelings of being heard and understood and improve the sense of connection and closeness.

  1. REPAIR

Ask how you can make it better – offer and be open to suggestions to repair some of the damage that was done. While things cannot usually be undone, be proactive in your efforts to make it better in any possible way. This further reflects your taking ownership of the issue, being engaged and available to help and caring about the impact this has had.

  1. PLAN AHEAD

Giving assurance that the mistake will not be repeated in the future is essential, however it’s often a promise which cannot be fulfilled as there is no strategy. Simply having the honest intention of not repeating the mistake is insufficient as I’m pretty sure you did not intentionally want to commit this mistake in the first place. So you need to know and mention what steps you are going to take to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This makes your apology much more concrete and can help outline practical solutions and safeguards.

  1. FOLLOW THROUGH!

The most important element for the 2 points mentioned above – you must follow through, so be sure to only commit to what you think you would actually be able to deliver otherwise it can add to the injury. Commitments can either build or break trust depending on how consistently you follow through.

  1. DON’T DEMAND FORGIVENESS

Please feel free request for it but remember that your partner doesn’t owe it to you. They may or may not be in the space to forgive you yet and that’s okay – they have the right to do so at their own pace. Just because you have offered a sincere apology, does not mean that it will instantly heal all wounds. Remembering that forgiveness is their prerogative is a sign of respect and empathy for their feelings and your patience will be a sign of your support, understanding and perseverance. So manage your expectations regarding the outcome of your apology to avoid disappointment or frustration.

  1. OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH

Such moments can provide opportunity to build trust and reliability, express respect and care for your partner, show that you value the relationship more than your ego and that you are willing to work through the tough spots because your partner, their feelings and what you have together are important to you. It is also an opportunity to elicit feedback, understand each other better, refine conflict resolutions skills, set the precedent for honest authentic communication and grow in your relationship.

I hope the next time you apologise to someone, it’s an effective one!

Written By Mahima Gupta
M.A., MSPS, CRT, C.Ht.
Registered Clinical Psychologist

Working Through Grief

LB Grief pix
“The weight of grief” sculpture by Celeste Roberge

Experiencing bereavement is unfortunately an inevitable part of life and grief is the normal and natural reaction to this loss. Grief can be a difficult and overwhelming process involving a range of emotions such as guilt, shock, fear, anger, disbelief and despair and also physical reactions such as appetite change, difficulty sleeping, headaches and fatigue. There is no time limit and no right and wrong way to grieve. However, if we try to avoid, force or rush our feelings, it can prolong the grieving process or leave it unresolved which can lead to complications such as depression, anxiety and physical health problems. Whilst we never forget, working through the grief process enables us to heal and find a way to live with the pain.

So how can we work through grief? 

As the grief process is individual and unique, some of these options may be useful whereas others may not work for you or feel impossible to do at this time:

  • Acknowledge your pain – Experience the range of emotions involved in your grief as they hit you and then give yourself a break from them through distraction or self-care. This alternation allows you to gradually adjust to the bereavement and the ‘new’ normal.
  • Take care of yourself – Give yourself a consistent routine to give your life some structure. Create a nice environment for yourself, keep a balanced diet and partake in exercise, rest and relaxation techniques.
  • Adjust to the new relationship – Acknowledge that whilst your loved one has died, the relationship can still continue. Attending a funeral or memorial service can help you to acknowledge that the person has died whilst making a playlist of songs that remind you of them or wearing something of theirs can be comforting, give you a sense of an ongoing relationship and help you to appreciate the relationship that you had, even if their death has taken away your future together.
  • Accept support– Whilst some people prefer to grieve in private, others find talking to people who care about them helpful. Even if you don’t want to talk, there may be practical tasks that others can help with. Most people want to help, but simply don’t know how so it’s OK to be specific when expressing your needs to others.
  • Express your emotions – If you don’t want to talk to others then you can seek out other way to express your emotions. This could be writing down your memories, thoughts or feelings in a journal, making a memory box or writing a tribute or poem.
  • Write a letter – There may be things you wished you had said to your loved one of would like to tell them now. Writing a letter expressing your thoughts and feelings and saying goodbye to them can be helpful.
  • Examine your guilt – Dwelling on the “what if’s” and “if only’s” is a normal part of grief. Mostly, there isn’t anything you could have done differently, you did the best you could at the time and whatever happened wasn’t intentional on your part. Identify what it is that you feel guilty about, examine the facts objectively and challenge any irrational thoughts. If your guilt is legitimate – take responsibility for this, learn from your mistakes, try to forgive yourself and instead focus on the good things you did for your loved one.

If you would like some help working through your grief, then a support group or individual therapy could be beneficial for you. Some other useful resources are listed below:

Meditation Oasis Podcast – Website and App available providing various guided meditations including a guided meditation for grief: http://www.meditationoasis.com/podcast

 Grieving.com – A forum resource for people to connect with others and share stories of loss and healing: http://forums.grieving.com

 The Grief Toolbox – Articles, other resources and an online art gallery to help support individuals in the grieving process: http://thegrieftoolbox.com/catalog

Written by Laura Butler – Reg. MBACP (Accred.) Counsellor &                     Psychotherapist

Life Strategies For Happier Teens

Teens’ life is by no means easy. Enduring both physical and emotional changes, they thrive to feel connected and accepted within their peer group, but most of all, teens are longing for consistent empowerment by their parents.

Here are some strategies parents can use to better support them navigate through this transition.

Strategy #1: The happiest people are not those with no problems in their life

Physical pain is caused by intense stimuli that affect part(s) of the body. A throbbing toe for instance is a sign to change the shoes we are wearing.  A burning tongue can be a sign to check the temperature of our drink before -not after- we drink it. Thus physical pain tells us we’d better change what we are doing.

The same way, emotional pain is a good alarm system that prevents further damage.  This unpleasant feeling (hurt, anger, jealousy, resentment, etc.) resulting from negative experiences tells teens  that the way they are thinking is not working, and that the more they believe, think, or behave the same way, the more it hurts.

Hence the happiest people are those who learn from their problems how to avoid doing the same thing in life, to get different results.

Here are some tools to help teens get out of sheer habit and deal with a situation in a different way:

Self-awareness: take a moment, step back and observe your thoughts.

Conscience:  Listen to you inner voice and consider how that predictable                           outcome can affect your well-being.

Imagination: envision new possibilities in dealing with the situation.

Willpower: You are powerful and have the ability to change your habit.

Strategy #2: No need to be perfect to be liked by others

If your teens wish to have a different nose, face or body to be liked and accepted by others, help them understand that there is no “reality”, only “perception”. So whether they perceive their body as ugly or as cute, they are right.

Explain to your teens that nobody’s perfect, and whereas talent and beauty are useful in life, the most valued qualities remain courage, honesty, generosity and humility. These qualities are not innate so teens have the ability to develop, nurture them within themselves and forge them as a character. Beautiful and talented people are not necessary liked whereas honest and generous people are definitely likeable no matter how their look can be.

The journey of parenting is never that smooth. Remember to serve as your teens’ role model by practicing what you are preaching. If after all, your teens are having difficulty opening up to you, encourage them to talk to another trusted adult such as a family member, friend or a counsellor.

Written By Sanaa Lundgren
Collaborative Family Practitioner