Monday, 12 October 2020

How Therapy Can Heal A Community

Here at 96 Harley Psychotherapy, we are proud to be supporting many different people from many different walks of life. We consider we are privileged to be allowed just a small glimpse into other people’s world and would like to share with you some of their comments on how they have individually benefited from specialist psychological care. Kay Lawrence tells of her personal experience working with these clients.

"Last Thursday’s pay packet was the best money I ever earned!  It was clean and I made it from my own hard work," said the young man referring to his £6.40 an hour pay. He was comparing that sum with his previous earnings of some £1,000 a day as a drug dealer. 

The young man was part of an employability scheme which helps people back into work, having served custodial sentences, or having been homeless, or both.  He was one of many being offered a second chance in transforming his life. The scheme called itself an employability scheme but was it just a job he was being offered? 

"I never thought anyone would help me after I lost my kids, my home, and my freedom," said a 30-something woman who found support after serving a prison sentence. The charity which helped her is committed to finding a way of decreasing reoffending rates by helping women find another way of living that allows them to leave the "revolving door syndrome". 

"Seeing the sunlight through the cracks of a shipping container and being in the sunlight as a real person in my own right is something that I can never truly describe," was the reflection of one  young woman in her 20s who had been trafficked into sex and domestic servitude. She is now being supported as she receives trauma counselling and learns to adjust to her new life, living safely in the UK. 

“No-one else would have been willing to take me on, train me up, and never mention my offences ever again,” said the man in his early 50s who is now part of a charity working with people who have years of repeat offending behaviour, culminating in homelessness, mental health difficulties and addictions. 

“I’m now training to become a coach to motivate kids, who are just like I used to be!  It all makes sense now.  If I can do anything to help those kids achieve their real potential, then my own wounds were worth it,” said the young ex-gang member who is now coaching young people who have been failed by the "system". He and the team are helping to heal their clients’ unresolved traumas and working with them for the common good.

The connection with the "end users`' of all these charities and the charities themselves have a goal in common: they long for transformation and a "better way".

If I can distill equality down to its most pure form, I would suggest the key is that we should all have access to the things that give us the qualities of living well. Fairness, opportunity and parity are the common ground, as is the practical need for food and shelter. However, our emotional and psychological needs also need to be looked after. Who are we without acceptance and respect? Who are we if we are not seen and heard, valued and appreciated?

There is so much good news that can be found in surveys revealing the outcomes of charity work and community projects. We know it may not work for everyone but, if one person in a generation changes the course of their life path, then that sets about a systemic change for their descendants too, as well as those around them. I find this prospect very exciting!  Supply the right conditions, and people who wish to embrace a new way will put in the leg work and do so.

Through our clinically and therapeutically informed work with charities and community projects, 96 HS remains committed to being a part of this good news. Partnering with organisations, we support the lifecycle of change, restoration and transformation in whatever capacity we can provide.

I asked a question at the beginning of this piece: Is it just a job? From my point of view, it is so, so much more.

By Kay Lawrence

These are some of the amazing groups we have been involved with since 2010. 

Photo 1  Silhouette of woman: Steven Lasry on Unsplash
Photo 2 Homeless man: by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Body Remembers

How are you feeling about facing a new lockdown? It seems as though we might be heading that way even if we're still at the "bespoke" stage.

Personally, I’m concerned. As a counsellor and, I hope, a caring member of society, I am worried about what emotional damage another lockdown would do to us. Will it really save us from this pernicious virus? Is it even right?

We are living in traumatic times. Babette Rothschild’s definitive book: The Body Remembers tells us that experiences of trauma can remain as a body memory long after the reality has faded. My fear is that those in charge have not given much thought how this trauma may affect its citizens of the future. 

I'd like to share a personal story which explains my views.

For almost two years, I have been a devoted carer to a small child. I visited once a week as a family member until she was nine months old and then took over her care for two full days a week while her parents worked. 

The arrangement came to an end in December of last year (to the relief of my body, at least) when she went to nursery full-time but I still collected and delivered and she came to my house so the steady, loving relationship continued.

Until March 23 of this year and lockdown when the relationship was abruptly severed and FaceTime became the “new norm”, a far-from-normal two-dimensional substitute. 

She was puzzled; I was upset but we persevered. She enjoyed pressing the red button at the end and was fairly overanxious to use it. She wasn’t speaking so we were limited to my chatting and waving and her waving hesitantly back until she became distracted elsewhere. It was unsatisfying but better than nothing. This went on for five weeks.

Then came Barnard Castle and the trip by the elusive Dominic Cummings when everything changed. I decided, like many others, if he could interpret the rules in his favour, so could I. The child's father finally agreed that I could come and see her and take her for a walk as long as we were outside the house. That was okay by me. It was Spring and I could do with the exercise. It was agreed I would do that twice a week.

Now for the interesting part. 

I drove over, parked the car outside the house and dropped off two bags of flour (remember the days when everyone was trying to bake and there was no flour around? I found a secret supplier) and went to drive off to park the car round the corner. By chance, I looked up and there was my little girl standing at her bedroom window looking out at me with a slightly puzzled gaze. She put her lovely chubby hand towards the window and hesitantly waved. I waved back with greater enthusiasm and then opened the door to get into the car. She continued to wave and then started to blow kisses. I drove off.

Some minutes later, I saw her in her full three-dimensional glory before she saw me. She was in her pushchair happily babbling to her father without a care in the world. 

Her father stopped walking and she looked around with some surprise. Then she saw me and there was a slow dawning recognition as she gave a joyful gasp. This little person who is usually quite reserved and, at that time, hard to coax a smile from, was so overjoyed at our reunion that she tried to scramble out of the buggy and fling her arms round my neck. It was a wonderful moment for both of us.

Her father left us (socially distanced at all times) and we reverted to our easy one-to-one relationship. When it was time to go, her father met us and walked back with me to my car. As I said goodbye, she began screaming and tried again to get out of the buggy. I was distraught, too, but kept my screaming to myself.

This pattern continued for some weeks and there were difficulties, though not with me. She was desperate for the swings, saying: "Peeese" in the hope that, if she asked nicely enough, I'd open the gate. I explained but she didn't understand of course. When the gate was officially opened, she was hesitant, holding back, uncertain about other children and the greater expanse of play area. 

We settled down and, later, I was “allowed” inside the house because restrictions had been lifted and the social bubble extended. (As I write this, I am astonished that phrases such as social distancing and social bubbles seem so ordinary. However did that happen?). The baby and I resume our relationship and I go over at least once a week to help out. 

If the lockdown is tightened, I will still be all right, as will she. I have “carer” status so there will be no more exclusions for me. But what about everyone else. How will they - you - and your loved ones fare?

FaceTime, Zoom and other computer meet-ups can be useful and are good at times of need. But nothing beats real human contact. Three-dimensional life matters.

By: Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1 by Rod Long on Unsplash

Photo 3 by Ben Garratt on Unsplash

Monday, 7 September 2020

Why First Impressions Count

Do you have a family member or friend who is starting a new school or encountering a new form teacher any time soon? This may be of interest to you.

I’d like to repeat something told to me by a teacher. “Make sure your child behaves him/herself for the first term at least. Otherwise, the teachers will have made up their mind about that child and their reputation will be carried on throughout their school career - and possibly influence their future prospects.”

I was shocked. I was disturbed by the idea that still-developing personalities could be judged on a comparatively short-term acquaintance in a strange and unfamiliar situation. And what I found particularly unsettling was that the teacher - part of a team of professionals who has so much power over young lives - did not seem concerned about the approach. 

Most of us know that we make judgments about one another in the blink - or even less - of an eye. That stems from way back when. Our reptilian brain - the amygdala - is on high alert in new situations to keep us safe from danger. It is the part of the brain that activates our fight, flight or freeze reaction and it is so fast to react that we are likely to be unaware of what is actually going on until we reflect on it moments afterwards. 

An example we’ve given before is of someone walking down the street looking at their smart phone, not concentrating and being unaware of the world around them. They come to a road and are about to step off the pavement when something stops them and they stand stock still. A moment later a bus goes by and they feel the rush of air as it passes centimetres (or inches if you are still on imperial measures) away. They are shocked. As they feel a rush of adrenalin and an extremely heightened sense of awareness, they think: “If I had stepped out …” 

The amygdala - their reptilian brain - has saved them. It is amazing and fantastic and astonishing to think that a part of our brain that has been here since we first arrived millions of years ago is still of vital importance to us. Vital, of course, in the truly literal sense of the word.

But (hu)mans cannot live by amygdala alone so, fortunately, we have the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex to complete the limbic system, and us.

What this means is the combined intelligence of the whole of our brain allows us to move from instinct through to emotions and memories (ie learning from experience) to reason, judgment, self-control or freewill and to manage the decision-making process. In other words, the whole emotional and reasoning experience that goes to make us a complete adult. I say “adult” because these parts of our brain develop as we mature - the prefrontal cortex will develop during adolescence and should be fully mature by the age of around 25.  

Let's return to the school teacher meeting a child for the first time. 

The child is likely to have mixed emotions because they are facing a new experience. Some may welcome it, some may be hesitant, some may be very resistant - however they are, there is every chance they will act different to how they might do in a situation to which they are used.  

Meanwhile, the teacher - while clearly an adult in a physical form at any rate - who may be more used to, and more understanding of the situation, is also going to experience his or her own complex emotions. 

It might be their first day in charge, they might be a last-minute stand-in, there could be unexpected trouble at home or, even, they are in a state of high excitement and can’t wait to meet the new intake. Whatever their emotional state, they will still make a judgment and it will still be instinctive and that judgment, so that teacher tells me, is very likely to stay with the child during their school journey.  

I know I'm talking about an initial meeting but imagine that initial impression being stretched out over the next few weeks. The child who is compliant, keen, eager to please, may be easier to like. The resistant child who is determined not to give of themselves no matter how hard the teacher tries is likely to find themselves "dismissed" more easily, leading to more resistance and so the pattern continues. And that is what made me so sad.

This blog, I hope, will give some understanding to both sides of what may be going on within, even when we are unaware. 

Perhaps parents and others taking children to a school for the first time could encourage their child (don’t frighten or threaten or the point is lost!) to understand the importance of first meetings and the impression they want to give. Urge them to give as good as they can, in every way. I'm not suggesting selling out their individual and precious souls but thinking about how they appear or how they might want to appear and see how the two can come closer together, if need be. The power, after all, is most likely with the teacher.  

And teachers, remember these are little people (teenagers, too, however big they appear) with a long way to go. They may have stuff in the background of which you are unaware. May I ask you to aim to work with all those parts of your mature brain before you judge and decide the worth of the child in front of you. Use your instinct, your emotions and your reasoned training wisely. How you react to that child over the course of the term may have a strong and influential effect on their future - either good or bad.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here that all of us would do well to learn.

By Lulu Sinclair

Photos of children in class: CDC on Unsplash


Thursday, 20 August 2020

In Search of a Hero

Did you watch the programme on Captain Sir Tom Moore, shown recently on ITV? What a story! A life in 100 years. Captain Tom’s is a life well lived and he’s living it still. 

The story so far: we’re talking a life full of adventure, a go-getting man, a kind person - he gave up a job during hard times because he was not prepared to exploit housewives by persuading them to buy his unnecessary product - a loving husband and father and a man who has persevered throughout his own personal tragedies. He has lived a heroic life. He is a hero, and we applaud him for it.

He’s not the only one we applaud. Remember all the NHS front-liners we stood and clapped at the height of the Covid epidemic? Week after week they laboured and week after week we cheered. And then we expanded our applause for the carers and the key workers who risked their own health to help others. For 10 weeks, we remained in our own insulated little bubbles looking out towards others and striving to remember we were part of a whole, that there was another world out there that we would be returning to very soon. It gave us hope.  

And then the clapping stopped. Still on a high, but as it had to before it petered out and left us feeling as though it were a chore, rather than a celebration.

And then what exactly? Exactly. What?

Lockdown eased. We moved into double bubbles and extended households; going to the seaside - or not - following government guidelines - or not - if we could understand them and generally trying to be good citizens. We moved seamlessly into masks and are presently waiting to see what is expected of us next.

Unfortunately, we mere mortals seem to have been forgotten. Our political masters have disappeared into the ether (or, as they may prefer to call it, their summer recess); our royal family are self-isolating and invisible in the glorious UK countryside (or what looks like a fantastic hidey hole in the California hills) and we are where exactly? Confused, I fear, and pretty much where we started. Neither here nor there. 

Those who were brave enough to attempt a break out for freedom with a holiday abroad have been caught out as unexpected lockdown quarantine rules return. Crab-like, the naughty escapees rushed to get back before the curfew with some of them arriving back in the UK with only minutes to spare.

Some may consider such holidaymakers a little frivolous for risking a trip abroad, others might applaud their “can do” attitude, believing we still have to make our own minds up how we choose to live, even in uncertain times. 

And this is where our need for heroes come in. The media - both traditional and new social - are full of articles about managing uncertainty, making the best of this time or offering insights of wisdom (I try to do it here) in the hope it will help people to keep their sanity while, it seems, politicians and world leaders all around us are losing theirs.
Personally, I experience the current uncertainty and what seems to be an absence of leadership as being left on board a rudderless ship. I’m no sailor, I need help.

We used to be able to turn to religion in times of adversity. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world still do but statistics inform me that, in the UK, the belief in an omnipotent celestial being has waned.  

Ironically, as we as a nation celebrate multi-culturalism and diversity, we seem to be moving away from a collective celebration of a life which embraces and includes all humanity. Instead, we pick and choose what matters to us as individuals and “identify” with ever smaller groups that seem to exclude more than they embrace. It is something we have always done; we may appear more sophisticated than our ancestors but, deep down, our emotions are pretty much the same as they always were.

My sense is that each of us needs some kind of spiritual or god-like figure to help us make our way through this crazy, uncertain world. We need exceptional people that we can look up to, aspire to and maybe even become. We need a sense of idealism, community and the feeling that someone is looking out for us and putting society’s collective needs above their own individual desires. We need more heroes.

As singer Bonnie Tyler once pondered: “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods? Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?” I only wish I knew. 

Until then, three cheers for Captain Tom. 

By: Lulu Sinclair

Top picture: Captain Sir Tom Moore portrait by kind permission of Alexander Chamberlin

Photo by Kutan Ural on Unsplash
Photo by Wai Siew on Unsplash

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Masking Up

How are you getting on with wearing a mask? Are you glad to be doing your bit for society and hoping that you’re helping to contain this awful illness?  Are you pragmatic? Do you wear it because you have to? Are you railing inside, feeling it’s an infringement of your own rights? Or have you decided to give up on going out and doing anything that requires wearing such a facial covering?


There are other options available to this question but it’s curious that we are having to discuss it at all. Who would have thought, even as late as March when lockdown started, that it would be made compulsory for all of us to wear masks when we are out and about?


A newspaper recently carried a cartoon of a man wearing a face mask, saying: “I’d never had imagined the time would come when I’d cover my face, walk into a bank and demand money.”


I find that funny but I also find the situation very, very odd. Our Western identity is very much wrapped up in baring our face. We are suspicious of those who conceal - or are concealed - behind a mask. If we can’t “read” a person, how can we know who they are?


We have characters in history to learn from, good and bad. For bad, think highwaymen, pirates, masked thieves stealing away in the night with swag bags over their shoulders. The Man in the Iron Mask is an in-between figure: feared because of his demeanour but trapped and controlled by his disguise. Inside was a man who had done no harm to anyone, locked up inside a mask simply because of who he was. Darkness and masks, there’s a theme there.


Good masked characters are available, in case you are beginning to feel bleak. Among the superheroes are Batman and Robin, Spiderman, the Lone Ranger and even Cat Woman, though she did have a devilish streak.

What they all had in common, however, was a desire to disguise who they really were. Whatever their role, these characters did not want their true selves revealed. The masks set them apart.


The difference for us is that we are having a mask imposed on us, whether we like it or not. Earlier in the lockdown, we were told they were unnecessary so we have to adjust our thinking from “not doing any good” to “wear a mask to avoid killing your fellow human beings”. I’m exaggerating of course but that, I would say, is the gist of the message. Whether we like it or not, we no longer have a choice. Mask up or stay at home.


For those of us who choose to go out, how will you wear your mask and what sort will it be? Will you ease it casually under your chin at first sign of open air, or will it stay firmly in place, metaphorically glued to your mouth and nose so that you obey the rules and limit the risk of infection? There you are, you are telling us a lot about yourself, even without saying a word.


You might decide to follow the style of trendy celebrities and “influencers” who are making a feature of their masks, designing ones to match their outfits. Mask as statement: a clever idea. 


But what about we who wear them out of necessity, not accessory? We who go for the functional white-backed blue paper-type that the NHS hands out. They are not pretty to look at but they serve a purpose. Unless you wear glasses, then your breath tends to steam up the glasses, making it both hard to breath and see. It’s not a good look, and it makes shopping difficult.


Once out and masked up, there is the question of how we behave. I have been observing, and notice a mask does make a difference. Often, it is an extension of a person’s personality. If they are timid, they may become more timid - keeping their distance, hand up to face perhaps in a bid to ward off evil illnesses or unwanted attention. Conversely, a mask may allow a more confident soul to spread (usually a) himself further physically.


At the beginning of lockdown when only brave or desperate people ventured out and masks were still a rarity, I spotted a heavily shielded man pushing forward to get what he wanted from the shelves while tutting loudly at others who were also trying to get their food needs met. The irony was that he was coughing and spluttering too. I wanted to point this out to him but lost my nerve as he glared my way. It was a learning moment and, after three months of observing, I get the sense that a mask will bring out the extreme of a wearer, good or bad. 


The lesson I'm taking is that I - a person who does not like wearing a face cover - need to adapt as best I can. If I am going to be forced to wear a mask for some time, I need to accept it with good grace and try to remember I am still on show, even if a part of me feels hidden. I should not use it as an excuse to behave "badly" or in a way I might not, if fully uncovered.


If we really want to be supportive of each other, maybe we need to work to ensure masks don’t bring out the worst in us. Maybe, instead, we could use our eyes - the “windows to our souls” after all - to signal that we wish our fellow travellers all the very best. 

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1: Colin D on Unsplash  

Photo 2: Alex Motoc on Unsplash  




Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Embarrassing Families

Hands up if you have a parent who has embarrassed you lately. Hands up if you have a child who doesn’t spare your blushes. Or maybe you’re the sandwich in the middle of such awkwardness.  

Whichever direction your hand has taken, you are in good company.

Recently, Stanley Johnson, father of Prime minister Boris Johnson, defiantly ignored his son’s instructions as head of the British government to stay home unless it was absolutely necessary to travel and left for his holiday home in Greece. Worse still, he circumvented Greece’s own barrier to UK travellers by going via Bulgaria. In case you’d missed it, he posted his expedition on his Instagram account. 

Talk about being an embarrassing relative.

Being impartial - as far as one can be with politicians - I feel a bit of sympathy. Then I remember that some of Mr Johnson junior’s personal decisions might have embarrassed his own children. Oh dear, the irony.

Across the pond, we read that POTUS Donald Trump has spent all his life trying to be “good enough” for his successful and ambitious father, Fred, following the death of his older brother, who was an alcoholic. Some accounts of Donald in his earlier, less successful life, suggest a kindness in him his critics cannot see today.  

Only those involved know the “real truth” of what goes on in families but, from a psychotherapy perspective, it is clear that some parents continue to play a significant part in their children’s lives long after they have reached adulthood. 

Boris Johnson's dad escaped to Greece
Ideally, the role of a “good enough” parent is to bring their offspring through the years of babyhood, childhood, teenage years into a fully fledged adult. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby described a successful outcome as a secure base. Fully fledged is an evocative term. Like a bird, a successful adult will be able to make his or her way into the world and, in turn, begin the process of family making of his/her own. 

The primary carer of a child up to the age of around six will be everything to that child. There may be some battles of will along the way as the child begins to assert itself but the carer - let’s say parent for the sake of argument - remains a Godlike figure. S/he is not yet seen to have feet of clay.

From six upwards, a child will begin to identify more with the parent of its own sex and so it goes on as the child begins to develop into its own person. The teenage years and the rebellious phase, frustrating as they can be, are necessary because that time of questioning the adult examples means the offspring is learning to consider and decide for him/herself. The teenagers needs to push against something/someone in order fully to become themselves. If, they are given space and allowed to make their own choices (with appropriate boundaries and care in place) the result will be a fully fledged adult, a person who will be equipped with a pretty good navigational compass to ride the stormy waters of life.

That is the theory. Unfortunately, it is not always like that. As Leo Tolstoy expressed it so movingly: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

There is a caveat here: I do not believe any well-meaning parent intends to do harm to their child. It is just that sometimes their own beliefs and desires get in the way seeing what is in the best interests of their child.

Sometimes, for instance, parents have plans for their children that forget to consider the separateness or individuality of the child. So the parent who always wanted to be a doctor - but isn’t - is determined their own child will become a doctor, regardless of the child’s own desires or talents. Or the parent whose love is conditional on the child complying with what is expected of it. The love may be withheld if the child disobeys. No child wants that so they may grow up conforming and subjugating their own needs in place of keeping the beloved parent happy. That rarely ends well because, eventually, the conflict between the (now inner) eager-to-please child and the rational, free-thinking adult they still wish to become, will be unresolvable. It may lead to the development of a “false self” where the person presents themselves as someone who, inside, they are not.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that we still have the right to be individuals even within our family group. As an experiment, watch a family of adults get together and see how each person reverts to the role they either took for themselves or were assigned to as children. The older one may boss, the younger may whine while the middle ones may go quiet as they realise no-one’s paying attention. Then take each individual out of that group and watch again how they are. They - and their roles - will be different, I can assure you, as long as they’ve been allowed to fledge. 

Back to the embarrassing relatives at the start of the blog. Isn’t it interesting that it seems to be the older adults who are into relative-shaming here? It used to be the other way around. Ah well. 

So next time you want to hang your head with shame when a relative publicly does something you had much rather they did not, remember they made their choice as an individual, it was not a reflection of you. Or, at least if you’re part of the band of happy families, it shouldn’t be.  

By Lulu Sinclair 

Photo 1: Ian Dooley on Unsplash 
Photo 2: Constantinos Panagopoulos on Unsplash  

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

After Covid

As we are slowly easing out of lockdown, it may be the time to take stock of how we can move forward into a new normality that benefits everyone. Lulu Sinclair talked in a recent blog about this having been, for many, a time of reflection, for being rather than doing, and for questioning choices we have made in the past so that we can move forward with less destructive and obstructive "baggage".  

There are, of course, many others for whom this has been a time of great deprivation and loss and it is impossible at this stage to assess the long-term mental and physical health consequences of this lockdown period and what effect the lack of schooling and social interaction is going to have on our children at such a formative time in their lives.  

This has been a pandemic that has discriminated in its behaviour: it has favoured the rich and targeted the poor, and it is almost inevitable that the children of already deprived families will suffer significantly more than those from better-off backgrounds, just as their parents and grandparents are likely to have suffered more from the virus itself. 

It has also been divisive in setting power and privilege against vulnerability and oppression, which has led to a strong undercurrent of feelings of injustice and victimisation and, I believe, added weight to the protests and civic unrest in of support Black Lives Matter. And while this is, without doubt, an extremely important, urgent and essential cause, the truth is that ALL lives matter, and it feels to me that, if we can learn anything from this universally catastrophic experience, it is to value life itself, in all its forms, regardless of race, colour, class, or creed, and this is to include living in harmony with our natural environment. 

This period of lockdown has perhaps given us more insight into what we truly value and at how bereft we feel to have been deprived of things that we have been used to taking for granted. And one of the most important of these is, for many, the need to feel a connection with people, and especially those we love, and to be able to feel some significance or purpose in our own lives. It has called on reserves of resilience and many have found new resources in music, art, nature and meditation - to find a comfort that Carl Jung* might have described as helping us to tap into a collective unconscious.  

But some have not been able to access new resources for themselves and, going forward, perhaps it is a time to consider that building resilience could be a very formative and constructive contribution to the way we educate and bring up future generations.  

Recent research** has shown that teaching children outdoors, using the natural environment as a tool and focusing on process rather than on outcome, has not only improved the performance of children in the classroom, but also increased mental health and resilience. Are there lessons here for us all?   

A final thought with regard to anxiety: this is often closely related to uncertainty and fear of a negative outcome.   If we had all known that we were going to be hit by Covid-19 in March as we were hopefully celebrating the arrival of the New Year on 1 January, I don’t think many of us would have found it possible to continue with the celebrations.  

People who suffer acute anxiety are living with a similarly catastrophic narrative hanging over them on a constant basis, the only difference being that it is hypothetical – the dreaded “what if”.   

It seems a sad waste to overshadow your life in this way, especially as we know that more often than not, the "what-ifs”"are very rarely as bad as we had anticipated and that we generally manage them much better than we had feared.  

Surely we would be able to live more peacefully if we had confidence in being able to cope with a given situation than spending our lives fearing or trying to avoid the risk of something that may not happen anyway.

*Carl Jung: Swiss Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist (1875-1961)
** Forest Research:  O`Brian, E.; Murray, R. (2006);         

Photo 1 Nick Fewings on Unsplash  
Photo 2 James Eades on Unsplash
Photo 3 Jamie Taylor on Unsplash

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Let It Go ... Let It Go

Are you a determined person? Are you someone who prides yourself on getting a job done, on never giving up, on staying loyal come what may?

Or are you a person who might persevere a little less than others (let’s not say fall at the first hurdle), someone who is prepared to put so much effort into a project but not much more than you consider worthwhile and can walk away, with barely a backward glance?

Someone told me recently that they had just marked their 40th wedding anniversary. I congratulated them, saying how impressive it was, particularly nowadays. 

“Oh no,” she said. “I’m not married any more. I was just telling you it was 40 years since I got married.”

The dreams of marriage 
That threw me. Why would someone be marking - re-marking - on an event that happened decades ago and which I imagine might be something of a sore point?

Sometimes a date triggers a memory, reminding us of an occasion that was important to us at one time. It could be a wedding, a birthday (if it’s ours, that one usually stays with us throughout life) or maybe an anniversary of a death of someone dear to us. But, as the years go by, the dates that once were important to us because of a particular meaning, fade a little, particularly if the marriage has ended.

So, the sharing of this 40th anniversary troubled me. What was behind it? Had this lady moved on at all? What was her present life like that an event of so long ago remained so real that she was remembering it in detail all these years later?

We discussed it further and it seemed as if her wedding day had encapsulated all she wished for in her life. Her early family history had been difficult and she saw the marriage - launched by the joyous occasion of her in the starring role on the wedding day itself - as the beginning of a new life where all painful things would end and she would thrive and grow and all her dreams would come true.

There's a time to hold on
Unfortunately, as so often happens when one person is looking to another to change their world and make everything all right, she picked the wrong groom. He was not the right person to be the repository of her dreams and it was obvious to everyone but her that the outcome was not going to be good.

At this point, I would suggest the response from a “healthy” adult would be sadness, disappointment, maybe anger, guilt, rejection (depending on who instigated the break up) and perhaps anxiety about the practical aspects of the future. After a period of time, however, I would expect the person to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and start all over again.

You may notice I have used a number of well-known phrases. Bear with me.

Most of us are taught such sayings at a very early age and sometimes we swallow them whole. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (determination pays) ; you’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it (be stoic in adversity); the early bird catches the worm (the go-getters get the prize), and so on. Some of the phrases we swallow whole as children move with us into our adult lives, sometimes to our detriment.

It appears my real-life Lady of Shalott suffered from an excess of proverbs in her childhood and had taken them too much to heart. She remembered a great many of them.

And a time to let go
She told me one story from school in which one teacher said she would never be good at sewing. Another teacher - who knew the girl better - said: “Ah yes, but you haven’t reckoned with her determination.” The delighted schoolgirl took the story to heart and marched into adulthood believing determination could conquer all. Unfortunately, the downside of that was, when her marriage failed within a few years so did she.

This particular person was unable to put her past to rest, even with support from friends and those in the family who loved her. That, unfortunately, had tinged her life with wrong choices and sadness and the anniversary brought it all back.

We spent a long time working on these internal beliefs, sharing her reflections on her  observance of the not-the-marriage anniversary and allowing her to understand that lives do go wrong despite the best of intentions, disappointments happen and mistakes are made.  She is still working on this but tells me she feels a little lighter. I am hopeful of a happy ending to this story, albeit perhaps 30 years longer than I might have wished.

My own reflections on this leave me feeling the key is recognising we are not always to blame and, even if the mistake is ours, we need not believe we are a lifelong failure because of it. Perhaps the best way to make amends - if there is a need - could be to learn from our past and use that knowledge to try to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Grieve, by all means. Mourn for your lost hopes and dreams, but not for too long. Not for 40 years. Move on.

That brings to mind another saying: “It’s never too late.” That one’s a good one. Worth remembering.

By: Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1 by Ben Rosett on Unsplash
Photo  2 by by Beatriz PĂ©rez Moya on Unsplash
Photo  3 by Chip Vincent on Unsplash
Photo  4 by Ashley Bean on Unsplash