Monday, December 05, 2016

The container exercise

I’ll say right up front, I don’t like the container exercise and have never used it with clients. If you don’t know it, it’s where you put things that are upsetting you (supposedly temporarily) so you can go back and deal with them later/at a more appropriate time. The container can be any receptacle that you can imagine, any size, colour etc. This tool is used, in my opinion, for the therapist, not the client.

If only our minds and bodies were as neat and tidy as keeping things in a container until we’re ready to deal with them. There are two main issues I have with this exercise and they are 1. triggers and 2. the inability or unwillingness of a practitioner to wade into the swamp with us. Just because something is in a container and we’ve put it on planet Mars, doesn’t mean we’re not going to be triggered by what’s inside it between sessions or at any time for that matter. What we really need are self regulating skills in order to help calm and soothe our nervous system not more tools to help us dissociate and avoid (which it says it’s not for, but that’s what too often happens), many of us are already excellent at doing that. We also need what Robert Stolorow calls; a relational home, so don’t settle for anything less in therapy.

The real reason I’m writing this post though is because this tool was used with me this year and I informed the practitioner of my opinions about it. I was willing to give it one more go just in case it worked this time (against my better judgement) and also because he wasn’t listening to me nor was he taking my concerns seriously, so I fell into the trap of people pleasing. It’s obviously a tool he uses a lot and he did not seem open to not using it or using something else instead.
The issues inside my container kept ‘leaking’ of course, because they need and want to be heard and this was not taken to kindly by the practitioner. He got frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t behaving, i.e. leaving things inside my container so he could get on with the resource work. Only trouble is I didn’t feel resourced and he just wasn’t able to handle this fact. Seems he missed the memo that I was supposed to be the one being resourced and the very basics of any therapy; listening, was missing. This is called countertransference in therapy and it is not a case of if but when it will come up, so all practitioners need to be willing to deal with it.

Clients can often become a performing monkey in order to massage a practitioner’s ego, instead of being true to themselves and being firm about what works and what doesn’t. I stayed firm in my knowing that this particular tool just doesn’t work for me. I had given it the umpteenth chance in order to prove I wasn’t “stubborn” or “difficult” (a covert form of people pleasing). Always, always, trust your instincts/gut, you’ll be so glad you did. I think the person we're most often angry with is our self when we don't listen to that voice.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Fear has a valuable place in our lives. There are times when fear is absolutely necessary to alert us to danger, so we can take action. There is no way we can get rid of or release our fear forever, and why would we want to? I think the real issue here is the fear of a real threat and the fear of a perceived threat.

What happens when we’re traumatised is that an external threat becomes internalised. And the internalised threat is not the actual event that occurred, it is the experience(s) of emotions such as fear, shame, grief and difficult physical sensations such as dread, collapse and tight guts that are encoded in our bodies and brains at the time of the event. These are the threats we don’t want to feel and avoid like the plague. And, as a result, we remain in hyper or hypoaroused states without returning to homeostasis. This is why psychiatrist Ivor Browne calls trauma; unexperienced experience.
But we need to learn to face these difficult emotions and physical sensations so they lose their threatening sting. We can do it gently, safely and slowly, but do it we must in order to switch off the alert/danger button inside our bodies. If there were true danger, we’d be getting ready to act, if we could. With perceived danger or threat, we have a lot more power than we think to disarm it. I have found somatic experiencing, EFT, mindfulness, and other body based techniques that combine the latest neuroscientific research very good.

I was listening to a seminar recently on compassion fatigue by Eric Gentry and he said another name for his seminar could be “The Owner’s Manual for Regulating your Autonomic Nervous System”. Being able to regulate our nervous system, i.e. calm and soothe ourselves, is the most valuable skill that we can all learn and have. It is priceless in terms of creating good physical and mental health.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Bill of Rights

1. I have the right to be me.

2. I have the right to put myself first.

3. I have the right to be safe.

4. I have the right to love and be loved.

5. I have the right to be treated with respect.

6. I have the right to be - NOT PERFECT.

7. I have the right to be angry and protest if I am treated unfairly or abusively by anyone.

8. I have the right to my own privacy.

9. I have the right to have my own opinions, to express them, and to be taken seriously.

10. I have the right to earn and control my own money.

11. I have the right to ask questions about anything that affects my life.

12. I have the right to make decisions that affect me.

13. I have the right to grow and change (and that includes changing my mind). 

14. I have the right to say NO.

15. I have the right to make mistakes.

16. I have the right to NOT be responsible for other adults' problems.

17 I have the right not to be liked by everyone.


Thanks to Jess Angland for giving me this. You can tap on anything that reading these rights brings up for you.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pacing yourself

It is really important to pace the rate at which we (re)connect with our body. Our body is the repository of all the experiences we’ve ever had. Many of those experiences have not been fully processed or felt because they were too overwhelming and we just weren’t, and maybe still aren’t, ready to face them. So, it takes time to wade back in, we need to go very gently so we don’t get overwhelmed.

There has been some criticism of mindfulness for this very reason. However, I don’t believe that mindfulness is the issue, the speed at which we reconnect to ourself is. Reconnection is the only viable option for us because remaining disconnected takes a huge toll on our physical and mental health. There are various tools and techniques that you can use to reconnect with yourself, it’s about finding what fits for you at any moment in time. I’ve found the work of Peter Levine to be great, his book In an Unspoken Voice has some excellent exercises for releasing traumatic stress. Tara Brach’s work is also very good and both she and Levine talk about the importance of going at a safe pace and pendulating between places that feel safe and unsafe in the body.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Inhabiting our bodies with presence

This is a really lovely talk from Tara Brach about how we dissociate, or leave the premises, as she puts it. We leave our body in all sorts of different ways and we ultimately pay a huge price, because we don't just dissociate from what's painful, but also what is joyful. We live a half life. Learning to stay in our body is crucial to our overall health.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. 
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, 
the more joy you can contain ~ Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tapping on shame

We’re going to be tapping on toxic shame, not healthy shame. Healthy shame is something we feel when we stop ourselves from doing/saying something that we would not want done/said to us. Read an article about the gifts of shame here. All emotions have their role and value, there really is no such thing as a “negative” emotion, but we can find certain emotions difficult to process and feel and for each of us those emotions will be different.

People can be shamed for lots of different things, but one of the most detrimental is being shamed by parents for merely existing and having needs. This is when a child starts trying to compensate the parent for just being alive and having needs and this can start very very early. As Dr Phil says, it changes who they are. They don’t have the luxury of becoming who they are because they are too busy trying to make life easier for their parents.

One of the things I have found that people are insidiously shamed for, is having parents who didn’t love them, however not being loved showed up. Now, don’t start telling me that all parents love their children, because that’s just not true. It’s also not true that we can’t give what we never had. Many parents who weren’t loved, go on to love their children.

You also usually hear people do the best they can. But do we always do the best we can? No, we don’t. And the important thing is to be honest about it. When we’re honest we can face the situation and rectify it but keeping our heads buried in the sand allows us to continue living unhealthy patterns and denying how we truly feel. If we don’t speak up, our bodies will do it for us, in the form of symptoms. EFT diagrams.

Even though I feel ashamed of … I completely accept how I feel

Even though I am ashamed of … I completely accept how I feel

Even though I was shamed by … (because … etc), I acknowledge how that makes me feel

Even though I feel shame … (when, where in your body, what sensation(s) come up), I accept myself anyway even if no one else does

Top of the head: I feel ashamed
Eyebrow: Of …
Side of eye: It feels …
Under the eye: I feel it in my chest (where do you feel it right now in your body?)
Under the nose: This is my shame
Under the chin: It’s mine because …
Collar bone: If something weren’t wrong with me, I wouldn’t feel this way
Under the arm: This shame is mine

Top of the head: Or maybe it’s not
Eyebrow: Yes, it is
Side of eye: No, it’s not
Under the eye: I’ve felt ashamed for a long time
Under the nose: I feel ashamed about ...
Under the chin: I’ve been shamed about … (Do you see this difference between these two sentences?)
Collar bone: I took that shame on as my own
Under the arm: But is it mine?

Top of the head: The shame of being ...
Eyebrow: The shame of feeling …
Side of eye: The shame of having …
Under the eye: The shame of …
Under the nose: This feeling of shame in my body
Under the chin: It’s not who I am
Collar bone: It’s how I feel
Under the arm: There’s a difference

Top of the head: I’ve tried to compensate by …
Eyebrow: And that feels
Side of eye: It’s ok to be honest about how I’m feeling, I need to be honest about how I feel
Under the eye: Maybe I’m ready to release some of this shame
Under the nose: Maybe the burden isn’t mine to bear
Under the chin: I can let go of 10% (put in the amount that feels right to you) of this shame
Collar Bone: And that feels …
Under the arm: I acknowledge and accept how I feel about this

Top of the head: It feels good to release some of this toxic shame
Eyebrow: I feel lighter
Side of eye: More myself
Under the eye: How others treat me says nothing about me
Under the nose: And everything about them
Under the chin: I can start recovering who I really am
Collar bone: And that feels ...
Under the arm: I'm connecting more and more to my true myself

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wild geese

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees.
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tapping without words

Tapping without words is especially useful when you're tapping by yourself and you don't know what to say, or what you want to say ends up confusing you and you can't see the woods for the trees.

Tap both the sides of your hands together (the karate chop points) and keep going until you yawn, sigh, burp, whatever signs that you get that let you know things are shifting and moving. (Do this on every point). The karate chop point (small intestine meridian where we assimilate food, experiences etc) corrects psychological reversal, which is any block you may have to releasing the issue/feeling/body sensation. It sets your system up for tapping and makes tapping much more effective.

Then start tapping down through the points, you can do the shortcut or the basic recipe for EFT. Start with the basic recipe as the 9 gamut can often shift trapped/frozen/blocked emotions/issues/body sensations. Also, as you tap down through the points, try tapping alternately on the bilateral points. The bilateral points are the eyebrows, sides of eye, under eyes, collar bone, and under the arm points. This is similar to the bilateral stimulation of the brain and body that you find in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy), which is most likely why the 9 gamut sequence works so well. I find tapping alternately on the points helps to relieve stress levels quite quickly. Keep going until you feel a shift/movement or until you feel like you are "done" so to speak. Repeat as necessary :-)