The Heavy Weight Of Shame

Rachel Watson, the girl on the train in Paula Hawkins’ searing bestseller published two years ago, is a woman living on the precipice of her own sanity. She stares into the black abyss of total emotional loss on an almost daily basis.

In the novel, Rachel is a functioning alcoholic divorcee who is kept from being engulfed by the hollowness of her own existence only through an irrational preoccupation with the lives of a couple whose house her train passes every day on its way into London.

It is this thread alone that barely tethers her to the here and now and the reality of who she is and what she stands for.

‘I want to drag knives over my skin, just to feel something other than shame,’ she says. ‘But I’m not even brave enough for that.’

Shame is a powerful force and, of course, it’s not just addiction that fuels it.

My work brings me into contact with a great many people – mainly women, it has to be said – who are battling with weight issues and who have tried every fad diet known to man before finally recognising they need help to achieve their goals.

It’s easy to dismiss failure to control weight as the result of a fundamental shortfall in personal willpower, to assume that ‘if they really wanted to do it, they would’. But that’s a very alpha male or alpha female outlook. And for the record, macho posturing rarely translates into personal achievement.

Most of the time, the efforts by these women to lose weight has been derailed not by a lack of willpower but by something much more emotionally intrinsic. For a great many women (and men, actually) there is a subconscious block to success that is far more powerful than our own determination when it comes to dealing with our eating behaviours.

In many cases where the achievement falls short of the intention, the subconscious has ‘disallowed’ success because the subconscious has determined that maintaining the unwanted weight has a definite purpose. And unless that reason is addressed, the protection the weight offers will remain.

The new diet will be tolerated for a week, or maybe two, but ultimately their subconscious will have its way. And so the cycle continues on its destructive way.

Of course, many clients do lose weight and it would be disingenuous to suggest that all lost battles with weight are down to some ingrained and unrecognised cause.

But there is a group of women who find it particularly hard and when we understand what they have experienced we also understand why that’s the case.

For women who have been the victims of sexual abuse, trafficking and rape, the terrible ordeals they have suffered present a complete game changer for the victim because with sexual abuse, shame comes as standard.

Nor do I make that statement lightly. Toxic shame is the very manifestation of hopelessness and despair, something so fundamentally abhorrent that it becomes an immediate life changer.

The authentic self is lost entirely and replaced instead with a fragmented alter ego with a wholly changed moral code that seeks and finds solace in anything at all that provides even a moment’s reprieve from pain.

Typically, these refuges take the form of food, sugar, drugs, alcohol and/or abusive, addictive relationships.

Shame is invisible and invidious, holding you back because most of the time you simply don’t know it’s there. And when shame is present you won’t make choices that honour you. Shame is not a motivator; its very nature is destruction. 

Turning to food and sugar to relieve uncomfortable and unwanted feelings is easy, since it is so readily available. But overeating is a momentary reprieve, whilst shame remains, unchallenged and unnoticed.

Your subconscious will keep ‘shame’s soother’ program fully operative, until it receives new instructions.

Healing from trauma is a process that requires time – the subconscious needs to feel assured that it is safe. But trauma can be healed and shame is definitely not a life sentence. Havening – a psychosensory therapy – and hypnotherapy for weight loss can help to address the issues that have locked your subconscious and help you to feel peace and joy and reclaim your core worth.      

Sandy Robson is a hypnotherapist specialising in Weight Loss, Trauma & Self Esteem at Zoe Clews & Associates


The Bunfight At The Not-OK Corral

Dusk settles over the house and the air is heavy with tension. In the kitchen, two pans bubble. It’s almost innocuous, that bubbling. In any other house, it would be an almost merry sound – a cheerful counterpoint in life’s great orchestra.

But not now. Not here. Here, that bubbling is about as cheerful and as welcome as a crow’s caw. Because it heralds misery.

There’s a noise behind you. You don’t turn. You don’t need to. You know what’s there. You try to stay calm. You try to pretend that today it will be different. Today there will be no misery. But you know the lie too well.

You strain the pans. Put the contents on the plate, next to the breaded chicken. You’ve added tomato sauce. His favourite. And chips. You’re thinking about whipping up some gravy. Would that be too much? You don’t know anymore. You’ve lost all sense of reason. You do know the whole damn plate is a bribe, really. He knows it, too. It might work. Might not. Probably not.

You turn, the plate already in your hand. He’s quick, already in his seat. Is that a smirk playing around his lips? Defiance? Perhaps even scorn. He’s staring at you. You stare back. Two gunfighters locked in a moment, separated by one table and years of confrontation. You slide the plate to him. You smile a soothing smile.

‘Gonna eat them peas, partner?’

Silence. He looks at them. His eyes flick back to you. He prods at them with a fork.

‘Nope.’

‘Got tomato sauce there, kiddo. Make ‘em taste better. Chips, too.’

‘Yep. Still not gonna eat the peas though.’

‘What about the broccoli?’

‘Nope.’

‘Just a little mouthful?’

‘Nope.’

‘Just try it. It’s good for you.’

The only answer is the scrape of the plate as it slides back towards you. You turn back to the hob where, out of sight, a back-up pan of pasta and cheese is cooking.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, then that’s because it’s a scenario that’s played out in scores of dining rooms and kitchens up and down the country every single day. A relentless circular drama of can’t eat, won’t eat where bribery and compromise becomes the currency of trade.

Anxiety over food is the most common issue I deal with daily and there’s no simple or straightforward reason for it.

Selective eating disorder (SED) in children has been around forever – it just didn’t have a name. But at least two or three times every week I see parents whose children will only eat about six different white or beige foods like bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and chips.

The fact is your child probably has a severe food phobia and no reward, treat or punishment will overcome that fear and anxiety.

In most cases, hypnosis offers the best way of resolving these issues because it can change the child’s subconscious relationship with food and so can almost always ease the anxiety.

But hypnotherapy isn’t an overnight fix. It’s the start of a journey that requires patience, a consistent approach and perseverance on the part of the parents in a battle they often wrongly feel has already been lost.

We all go into natural forms of hypnosis every day (day dreaming, driving etc.) and children are experts at it. As experienced clinical practitioners specialising in children’s problems, we simply focus on enhancing that natural ability in order to get to the root cause of the eating disorder.

With hypnotherapy, mealtimes don’t need to feel like a re-enactment of High Noon.

Elaine Hodgins is a qualified clinical paediatric hypnotist at Zoe Clews & Associates


The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Ageing

If he were still around, my Dad would have been in his mid-Seventies now.

The eldest surviving child born at the outbreak of the Second World War into a dirt poor Liverpudlian family.  Four babies died of eight siblings.  My father had the unenviable challenge of being a sensitive lad growing up in harsh times..

He grew up in an extremely volatile environment where deprivation was rife, prospects scant and food scarcer. He learned early that the curse of asthma brought its own blessing with a decent meal on those occasions when he had to be hospitalised and that in good health a life of petty crime could mean the difference between eating or not.

Some would say he was a bad lad. Others, perhaps more kindly, that necessity drove him to live off his wits and take the opportunities that presented themselves, no matter how unpalatable.

But despite those inauspicious beginnings he, like others who found themselves in similar circumstances, managed to make something of himself. In some of the security of marriage and fatherhood, he found the confidence to return to education and eventually won a place at a prestigious art college.

He came from stock that didn’t complain. So when eventually his lungs deteriorated through a mixture of asthma, the dust from the buildings he decorated for a living and the cigarettes he often tried, but never quite managed, to give up, he summoned up his fierce Scouse self-deprecating humour and made light of things.

His unprepossessing upbringing gave him many well-observed (and often highly colourful) home-spun pearls of wisdom. But one became his mantra as he entered the twilight of his life:

Don’t get old.

In his time in this world and in the time since he left it, much has changed. Medicine has taken quantum leaps forward, the environment is cleaner and society as whole is ageing steadily as the baby boomers enter later life.

In short, we’re all living longer and the world has been forced to adapt to and reflect the fact that it needs to provide for and protect people in later life.

Yet short of curing death itself – which seems highly unlikely – no medical advancement will stop the fact that our physical health is genetically predisposed to deteriorate the longer we’re here. And the irony is that while medicine – either curatively or preventatively – keeps us alive for longer, so we will all have to manage age-related conditions for longer, too.

The one thing we can take some control over, though, is our emotional health, so that we can be positive about what later life has to offer us and to meet its challenges head on with a smile and the confidence of knowing that there’s much still to achieve, regardless of the number of years we’ve chalked up on life’s great scoreboard.

It’s folly to make sweeping generalisations about the sorts of issues that afflict us in later life – we’re all unique and our challenges are therefore unique. But among those I see most often are depression, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Depression in later life can be triggered by any number of things: loneliness, if you suddenly find yourself on your own for extended periods of time; the frustration at being physically unable to do some of the everyday things you used to enjoy; a loss of independence; ill-health; financial challenges that come with having to stretch a limited state pension;

Sleeplessness, in turn, can be triggered by both physiological and emotional factors. My Mother, now well into her 60s, talks of waking much earlier than she did when she was younger. There appears to be no particular reason for that. Sometimes sleeplessness is a result of underlying depression or stress caused by any of the triggers listed above and others besides.

But while the physical causes of these and other so-called age-related conditions need to be addressed and managed in some way – for example, by working with specialist organisations like charities, agencies and local authorities to find practical solutions to underlying problems around isolation, debt, health and independence etc. – counselling and therapy can also play an important role in restoring balance and order to your emotional wellbeing.

Hypnotherapy, in particular, has been proven to have a significant positive effect in dealing with the emotional symptoms – like depression, sleeplessness – that are caused by ongoing practical problems.

Life, however old we are, is often a jumble of ambition, thoughts, fears and emotions – all battling to be a priority. Hypnotherapy is a non-invasive and extraordinarily supportive way of allowing you to sort through the tangle of emotions that stand between you and contentment and giving your subconscious a chance to reset and rebalance itself.

Some problems require long-term help, but many more require something lighter in touch. If you’re struggling with emotional problems that you’ve been inclined to write off with the words, ‘it’s just part of getting old’, then you need to know you don’t have to put up with them just because you’ve got a certain number of candles on your birthday cake.

Just like my Dad did, we work hard in the living of our lives and we have a right to enjoy all the rewards that later life can bring us – whether that’s time with friends and family, holidays or just the simple pleasure of watching the world float by.

Age is just a number – it doesn’t need to define who you are emotionally.

Zoe Clews is the founder of Zoe Clews & Associates and is one of London’s most trusted and recommended hypnotherapists


Addiction: Rat Park, or rat race?

In the late 1970s Bruce Alexander, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, developed a contentious hypothesis. In a global society which focused entirely on the role drugs played in addiction, Alexander looked instead at a different enemy: the environment.

At the risk of over-simplifying things, he believed drug use – and therefore addiction – was much less likely to be prevalent if people were given alternative choices to make. Unsurprisingly, the science community all but laughed at him.

But Alexander believed he was onto something and to prove it, he developed the Seduction Experiment based in something that came to be known as Rat Park.

Rat Park was a sensory environment 200 times the size of a laboratory rat cage. He filled it with all manner of diversionary objects and gave the rats housed there two water sources: one plain, one heavily laced with morphine.

Then he took four sets of weaned rats aged 22 days. One group lived in rat Park for the 58-day duration of the experiment and another group lived in a standard empty lab cage for the same period. A third group began life in Rat Park and moved to a cage at the age of 65 days while the fourth group started out in a standard cage and moved the opposite way at the same time.

The experiment was complex but, in essence, the rats that lived in the park for the whole period chose plain water over the morphine-laced water whilst the caged rats ultimately chose the morphine. Meanwhile, the morphine-dependant rats that moved from the cages to the park soon chose the plain water over the morphine and the Rat Park rats that moved into the bare cages eventually showed greater inclination to drink the morphine water.

What Alexander proved was that addiction had more to do with the external environment and the internal reaction to it than it did to the addictive substance itself.

The 21st Century version of Rat Park is to be found in America where young addicts are being encouraged to leave the streets and participate in gym programmes. The environment change frees them of addiction because they have something else to focus on. But if the cause of the addiction is not examined and relearnt in a positive way then as soon as the gym programmes stop then there is a high likelihood of relapse.

The key to understanding addiction is understanding your environment in the past, present and future. Take alcoholic addiction, for example, you weren’t born with a bottle of Jack Daniels in your hand, circumstances in your life led your brain to finding comfort and pleasure in the alcohol leading to the addiction taking control. Even though the addiction maybe slowing destroying your life there is often a deep, positive intent to it that needs to be explored and relearnt.

At Zoe Clews & Associates, our success rate in helping people get control of their lives from addiction is something we are extremely proud of. We understand that to overcome addiction you might need support not just from us, but from working in programmes and participating in group work and using us to reinforce the change in internal programming that led to the addiction. We are delighted to work with other therapies and programmes to help you move forward in your life and get back the control, rather than being the one who is controlled.

The way we work is to individually tailor the sessions to your needs and goals and this is achieved by incorporating a number of methodologies to release you from the prison of addiction. Many of our clients who used to have alcohol addictions can now sit happily drinking coffee in a bar with no desire to have an alcoholic drink.

Past events

Our past seriously affects our addictive response. If we grew up watching mum and/or dad having a few too many Martinis in the evening or Mum puffing her way through 20 cigarettes a day then we learn this as appropriate behaviour, so in times of stress the coping mechanism that we reach for is what we learnt from our parents.

And trauma, if not reconciled, leaves an emotional footprint of unmet needs – which in turn can prompt us to try to meet those demands in later life. This, in turn, can fast become an addiction.

So what can we learn?

To successfully treat an addiction permanently you have to turn to the mind and satisfy its unmet need, coping mechanism or learnt behaviour. The problem isn’t the substance, it’s the desire for it, and the methods used at Zoe Clews & Associates effectively deal with that desire so you can regain control over your life. 


The Problem With Getting Swept Off Your Feet (Is That You Can Land Up On Your Head)

I’ve come to realise that we’re all living with a terrible affliction, a curse of the modern age that infects almost every walk of life. It’s called The Lure Of The Instant. In the words of the immortal Freddie Mercury, we want it all … and we want it now.

If it isn’t delivered today, we’re not interested. We want music now. Books now. Films now. Our favourite TV shows now. Download speeds must be superfast, fast food faster and a quick buck easier to make.

The days when we sent our photos off to Boots and waited a week for them to come back seem almost prehistoric. Getting online through a dial-up connection that took ten minutes to deliver the world to our screen ridiculous. Using mail order to get a CD delivered preposterous (and what the hell is a CD anyway, right?)

And this malaise, this creeping and often malevolent virus also contaminates our romantic lives. Think not? Two words: speed dating.

Back in the day we could be waiting months for a messenger arriving on a horse to deliver a love-letter — nowadays there is a tendency to start getting seriously twitchy if the double blue ticks on Whatsapp haven’t been acknowledged within ten minutes.

The ways to contact someone are myriad and near-infinite and technology has turbo-boosted the pace at which relationships start. And unfortunately that also means our anxiety levels are superheated, too.   

How our junk food mentality of modern society affects your romantic stress levels all depends really on what you are looking for. You can have incredible nights, weeks and months with people, but I believe problems occur when we mistake intensity for intimacy.    

That heady, yet judgement-clouding triumvirate of sex, alcohol and fantasy-about-the-future can see your common sense, not to mention your wisdom and intuition, dancing their way merrily through a sea of red warning flags and straight out of the side-exit.         

That’s not to say good things cannot be easy and flow well – I believe that’s a good sign; it’s more that if you’re looking for a life partner rather than another kamikaze love affair (especially if you have previous in this area) or you just want to step off the merry-go-round of over-before-it-started-flings then it’s wise to take it more s-l-o-w-l-y.    

We are drip-fed (perfume advert anyone?) a steady diet of a story of happily ever afters based on style-over-substance chemistry explosions and little else.   

Love is where both men and women can abandon themselves by getting so intoxicated that they are blinded to behaviour they would never tolerate from friends, co-workers, family members etc. and I’m afraid that if you continue to abandon yourself (saying yes when you mean no, ignoring uneasy feelings about someone’s behaviour, neglecting self-care, friends and other commitments to see someone every single night of the week because that’s what they want) you will continue to crash.

Who are you actually giving your heart to? Do you know? If you don’t – and the majority of us can’t honestly insist we do in the first flush of romance – then you need to find out. And that, in my opinion, takes time.  Most of us are dating ‘adverts’ for the first few weeks anyway!     

If you’ve started something and you feel like you are getting swept along too fast – and we all know and understand that it’s the easiest thing in the world to get carried away – then it’s absolutely your prerogative to set the pace and slow it down to establish a healthier footing so that you can work out what is right and wrong for you.

Because if you don’t, then the wise old voice of your intuition is likely to be lost in the roar of your emotional afterburners. We need to at least go slow-ish to able to listen to our intuition.    

One of the main things our single clients come in with at Zoe Clews & Associates when they are looking to work on relationships is a ‘checklist’ of everything they want in a suitable partner.   

But checklists that are a long list of physical attributes and worldly accomplishments mean nada if you have failed to establish the fundamentals:

1. Are they available? 

2. Are they saying all the right things but actually not following through in their actions?

3. Do your values align?  

These aren’t just questions we can ‘ask’ of someone on a first date, these are things we need to observe over time.  

I’m not here to put the dampener on romance – love is absolutely the most wonderful thing in the world, and I’m all for following your heart. But just be absolutely certain to take your brain with you. 


You Don’t Throw Away A Mercedes Because It’s Got A Scratch

Everywhere we look we see things that are supposed to make us prettier, hotter, thinner, richer, smarter, more popular.  Advertising feeds off the very premise ‘you are not enough, but with this you could be’.

The voracious rise of social media has only exacerbated this – the relentless daily bombardment of glossy perfectionism supported by the current trend of wholly transparent captioning.   Pretence: “Guys, look at this beautiful ocean!” Subtext: “Check out my bikini body! I’ve worked sooooo hard to look this supreme!’

And then there are the nauseating hashtags that even some of the most intelligent of celebrities do not appear to be immune to: #sugarfreediet #eatclean #beachbodyready #nodaysoff. For many, Instagram has become, I suspect, an exhausting and relentless life-long competition. It’s the ultimate example of Keeping Up With The Joneses.

Plastic surgery is more popular than ever and new information released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) shows continued growth in cosmetic procedures over the last year. Since 2000, overall procedures have risen 115 percent.

The age at which people are are having procedures done is decreasing, and the internet is littered with memes featuring before and after photos of Kylie Jenner, consoling audiences with the message ‘no one is ugly, they’re just poor’.

And it’s not just the beauty and body industry – perfectionism addiction is leaking into all facets of society and it’s becoming something of a menace.

My problem is with the level of intensity that perfectionism addiction has taken on: it has worked it’s insidious way into all areas of our lives – appearance, bodies, level of fitness, relationships, socialising, work and so on.

It’s as if the sneaky voice of the advertising industry whispering ‘you’re not enough’ has had its volume cranked up to eleven and it’s now shouting: you must work harder, be more, eat clean, exercise more, wear a different outfit every time you venture out of the house and – keep doing that until the day you die’.  It’s perfectionism addiction on steroids.

One particular hashtag that gets me, which is typically alongside gym selfies, is #nodaysoff.  An impeccable work ethic is admirable. I get it – most goals aren’t reached by fantasising about the future whilst doing little but flicking through Netflix.  However, embodying the “no days off” mantra provides little flexibility for the self-care we need to maintain our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.

There is, of course, nothing wrong – and many things wonderful – with wanting to do your best, look your best, realise your dreams in life and achieve your goals. We are, after all, growth-seeking beings.

But it’s the lack of self-acceptance of where we are right now that’s the problem – and the false premise that happiness is in some way a destination, that somehow everything will finally fall into place when we are 14 pounds lighter, £20k richer, in the ‘right’ relationship or smashing some far-off level of success.

The fact is, we’re continually ‘kicking the can’ when it comes to our own self love and self esteem. Yet paradoxically, I think it’s the acknowledgement of our flaws, not the obsession with perfection, that ultimately makes us better, more human, more understanding and more likely to do well.

That comes from learning to look at the cracks and beginning to come from a flexible, growth-based approach that is gentler and less rigid than perfectionism addiction’s shame-based core.

By accepting our flaws and imperfections, we are accepting our ‘humanness’ – leaving room for growth without telling ourselves we ‘should’ be somewhere or something else, which ultimately leads to a more peaceful life.

It’s also worth noting that the very idea of perfection is exactly that: just an idea – a concept, a mental impression, an opinion and a belief. There is no such thing as perfection because thankfully we are all blessed with unique preferences and a good old dollop of individuality.

Which brings me back round to the title and a conversation I overheard whilst walking down the street behind a young couple. The beautiful teenage girl was complaining incessantly to her boyfriend that her arms looked ‘fat in this top’.

‘Babe,’ he said, as he looked at her imploringly, ‘you don’t throw away a Mercedes because it’s got a scratch’.  Now that really was perfect.


The Superfine Art Of Ignoring (& How To Master It)

Life is busy and crowded.   Constant messages, advertisements, texts, emails, problems, phone calls, things to learn, another social media platform, the endless tyranny of the to-do list, work, relationships – it can all get rather ‘shouty’ and lead to a lack of perspective and serious overwhelm.   Your mind can whirl and lose it’s ability to switch off.   This ‘loud mind’ can cause insomnia, stress and a distorted perspective and, if left unchecked for long enough, manifest as persistent anxiety and burnout.

Not only does ‘living in overwhelm & distraction’ disrupt our daily wellbeing but it also seriously hinders our chances of success.   It’s no secret that the key to success is focus.  If we are snarled up in a maelstrom of insignificant, useless ‘busyness’ and continual fire-fighting it hampers, or at the very least slows down and limits, our chances of fully realising our dreams.

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A Word On Clarity….

Without clarity in our lives we tend to drift around like rudderless ships. One of the keys to finding clarity in our life is listening to our intuition and if we don’t, we will be buffeted around by the winds of others wills and desires. At best we will end up feeling somewhat dissatisfied, at worst deeply resentful. In truth it is your right to look inside yourself for answers. We’re defining intuition here as a potent form of inner wisdom, not mediated by the intellect or logical conscious mind. Intuition is accessible to us all, and it’s a still, small voice inside. I think of intuition as an unflinching truth-teller committed to our well-being.

So if we all have it, why do some of us struggle so incessantly with trusting ourselves?

Well, simply because we are not taught to, we are often taught by our caregivers to trust others above ourselves and this reinforced by others around us as children, such as teachers or other figures of authority in regular proximity. If the subconscious mind, which simply doesn’t understand time, has learnt this at an early age then it continues playing out the unhelpful belief system that ‘others know best’. This combined with fear, external pressure or low self-esteem can seriously get in the way and prevent you from listening to, and most importantly acting upon, your gut feelings.

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If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

In the build up to New Year, all the changes we want to make can feel exciting.  But when it actually arrives, those resolutions can feel more than a little daunting to broach. Where do we start to begin tackling all – or even some – of those unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving that we really are so eager to transform?   

This can be especially daunting if we have a previous history of dumping resolutions on the scrap-heap before the month is even out.

When we see this happening we have a tendency to get heavy with the self-reproach, which of course never helps anyone.  Whatever we beat ourselves up for doing – or not doing – we often continue to do – or not do – more of that very same thing.   Guilt unfortunately seeks punishment.

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What’s Your Subconscious Credit Rating?

Your relationship with money is one of the oldest relationships you will have in your lifetime, so it stands to good reason that your money beliefs may well be outdated.  In essence, many of our beliefs about money were formed in childhood before we even had any!

This is no problem if we were born into a household with a healthy relationship to money, but adult life can become a financial snake pit if you weren’t!

Many of our beliefs around money are inherited from our parents, or those in our immediate sphere during childhood. Our conscious, rational mind doesn’t develop until around the age of 9, up until this point our subconscious is in control. This means we are highly impressionable to all around us and we often take what is told to us and absorb it as the ‘truth’.

Consciously we all want to have a good relationship with money – as anything but that will often create a struggle – however what we are creating on a subconscious level in our lives can be a different experience on a day-to-day basis.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

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Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.