Trauma Is Chemistry

Ice Cube In Flames On A Spoon

Hands up if you ever played doctors or nurses – and focus at the back, there … we’re talking about role-play when you were six, not cosplay when you were, well … older (that’s a whole different article).

Most of us acted out the part of a doctor or a nurse or a dentist when we were kids, and I bet that even though you probably won’t remember or associate it in this way, when you did, it was often just after an appointment with your own doctor or dentist.

More than that, I’d be willing to stake a little money on the fact that on those occasions, you acted out whatever treatment you’d just received. An injection, maybe. Or drilling a tooth.

Even now, you probably think that was just a simplistic process of taking a ‘new’ childhood experience and contextualising it in your own relatively new world.

Actually, what you were really doing was detoxing a negative and potentially traumatic experience. Maybe you succeeded, maybe you’re still nervous around needles and the dentist’s chair.

But regardless of the outcome, that time you spent immunising a doll or perhaps an unwilling sibling was practical, tangible evidence of your subconscious processing your ‘negative’ experience to try to resolve it. Because in resolution lies immunity.

When trauma goes unresolved, the process of trying to deal with it never actually stops. Instead, your subconscious quietly gets on with trying to find a mental hack that will finally allow it to lay to rest the ghosts of the past. This can and often does take place over many years, without you ever being aware of it.

The simple, unavoidable truth is that trauma is actually chemistry – and it’s a chemistry that’s as addictive as any when it comes to messing with your head.

Take love, for example.   

We like to think that when we fall in love it’s something akin to the planets aligning, an unstoppable destiny-defining force of nature that we always interpret as something unremittingly positive.

Spoiler Alert: it’s not.

Well, not always, at any rate, and not always in the way we think it is. Without wishing to be unnecessarily forensic and unromantic about it, love and relationships are often like a petri dish … full of really interesting things but riddled with fungus and bacteria.

Having stumbled upon such a delightful analogy, let’s wring it dry.

Some of the fungus and bacteria is good – for example, the challenging partner who’s the pragmatic Yin to your wild-hearted Yang (or vice versa). This is the guy or girl who’ll calmly ask you what you’ve done with your parachute before you jump out of the plane. 

He or she is the Actimel or Benecol in your relationship – doing you good even if it’s not the tastiest thing in your fridge.

But for those of us who’ve been laid bare by serious trauma, some of the darker, more damaging emotional fungus is only visible under a microscope. And as unromantic as it sounds, when people in this group fall in love, it’s often not love at all but rather our damage locking into theirs.

If you grew up in a loving family with parents who loved each other, loved themselves and loved you and who, crucially even if accidentally, taught you that it was all right to love yourself, too, then you’re likely to have a much smoother route to romantic happiness.

But people who’ve been affected by trauma (and especially trauma with a capital T) may begin to notice patterns in their behaviour which, if they ever get the chance to lift the bonnet on their own wellbeing, they’ll find are the product of the subconscious trying to heal the past.

That may play out as tending to attract people who display the same character and behaviour traits of whoever was responsible for hurting them – emotionally, physically or both – all those months or years ago.

It’s an unconscious, but very resolute, attempt to relive the past in the hope of a better outcome that heals the wounds inflicted in childhood or youth.

To achieve that end, the subconscious seeks out and pushes you toward what is ‘familiar’, even if ‘familiar’ is a toxic neurochemical cocktail that starts with a combined oxytocin/dopamine high and is followed by a massive cortisol adrenalin dump crash that’s accompanied by dynastic levels of drama.

The end result? Horror-struck friends and family who can’t understand why this otherwise rational and grounded human they know so well always seems to wipe out on love’s great surfboard. 

What are the signs that something’s wrong in your own personal petri dish? You may find yourself passing up or passing over really good women/men because they don’t give off that familiar neurochemical cocktail that matches the drama (actually, trauma, but you just don’t know it yet)  of childhood, and they feel ‘dull’.  

When your damage connects to someone else’s (I’m done with the petri dish analogy now), you enter a cycle where the toxicity of the traumatic relationship in your past is reinforced. That may be defined as abuse, emotional toxicity, abandonment or something else – and it’s known as a trauma bond.

Trauma bonds are addictive and they’re addictive because they trade on the powerful – almost superhuman – brain chemistry that’s created by equally powerful emotional experiences.

Breaking that connection is really hard to do on your own, because those connections are so much stronger than the connections you form with other people in your life – and so the pain of giving them up by ending the relationship (or having it ended for you by the other person) is infinitely more painful.

Simply, we’re not done with trauma until the work to resolve it is done – and until then we unconsciously ‘fetishise’ our trauma in the now by recreating the traumatic dynamics of our childhood.

So, the principle is much like that role-playing of the doctor in childhood, but with often catastrophic outcomes.

When both people in a relationship are ‘unprocessed’, it’s a bit like going to the Grim Reaper for a cuddle: it’s not going to be pretty and you can bet your bottom dollar on cosmic levels of drama.      

So what are the danger signs of a trauma bond relationship?

1.  Massive intensity – I often describe this as the process of trying to hotwire intimacy. It’s the mutual first-date oversharing of the gory details of each other’s childhood

2. On/Off cycles: The relationships that are unpredictable and involve regular making up and breaking up. This is intermittent reinforcement hell.

A 1950 study using rats discovered that reward plays a large part in reinforcing behaviour. The experiment found the rats pressed a lever for food more steadily when they didn’t know when the next food pellet was coming than when they always received the pellet after pressing. This proved that consistent rewards for a certain behaviour actually produce less of that behaviour over time than an inconsistent schedule of rewards.

3. You just can’t say goodbye: Even when your friends and family are Whatsapping WTAF? about you and you know you should be ending the relationship, you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

The good news is that if you have big T trauma and this has played out across your relationships, resolving the problem is entirely possible – though it’ll take time and effort.

Here’s what you can expect when you do the work:

The healthier you are the healthier the partner you will attract. Relationships are always mirrors and as you heal you’ll feel a natural chemistry for healthy available people.

The potential to find an amazing and conscious relationship: Partners who’ve been through trauma and worked on their trauma prior to meeting will usually continue to work on their trauma in the relationship, which also involves working on the relationship itself.

We’re hardwired to heal: We need the right conditions to do it, but some of the most amazing people in the world are those that have overcome trauma and come out the other side with compassion, wisdom and positive awareness of their own flaws 

Relationships are the most amazing vehicle for growth: When you can see them as being less Mills & Boon and more as a reflection of where you are in your emotional journey, you’re much more likely to be able to recognise and stick with something really good when it comes around.

A wonderful reality check on the past: When you’ve done the work, you’ll see your toxic relationship for the s**t-show it really was and realise its ending was just the beginning for you.   

Why It’s OK To Just Tell People To F*** Off

Shutterstock 648177022

When you ask most people what advice they’d give to their younger self, you tend to hear a lot of words from the self-affirming end of the spectrum: be more confident; trust yourself; be proud of who you are; be true to your own beliefs. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

When Michelle Lee, a feature writer with New York’s Allure magazine, asked Dame Helen Mirren the same question as part of a press junket for her new movie The Leisure Seeker a couple of years ago, she was probably expecting something equally inclined to the gently persistent art of self-validation.

What she got instead was, in true Mirren style, something much more direct, though no less heartfelt:

“I’d advise her to tell people to fuck off more and stop being so bloody polite.”

Quite apart from the delicious sense of mischief that pervades her answer – behaving counter-intuitively to others’ expectations of her is, of course, a trait long associated with arguably the popular favourite among British theatrical royalty – there’s also a refreshing honesty in that response.

After all, you don’t become a pin-up for feminism by playing it safe with your public persona. And anyway, isn’t there a difference between going full Anglo-Saxon to strike a blow in the name of equality and opportunity, and simply being vitriolically boorish in a Russell Crowe kind of way?

When Mirren gave that response, she wasn’t talking about being pejorative for the sake of it. She was talking about having the balls to stand up and say ‘No’; to refuse to take the predictable, emasculatory bullshit that women the world over put up with every day – and that she put up with as a young actress setting out on her career; to call people out – men and women – for the unsavoury truth of how they behave or what they represent.

And I think that’s something from which we can all learn.

As another hero of mine, the novelist, satirist and poet Erica Jong, once said: ‘Women are trained to be uselessly nice.’ Except it’s not just women, of course. As Brits we have a whole cultural history of niceness that dates back to Tudor times and applies to the male and the female of the species equally. 

Most of the things that we might define as being terribly British can also be defined as being terribly nice. Queueing. A disinclination to cause a scene. A morbid fear of being seen to complain. An expectation of an upper lip that’s as stiff as one’s collar.

Here in the UK, we’ve turned taking other people’s shit into an art form, and we certainly don’t tell people to fuck off when their narrow-minded purview conflicts with our broader sense of social acceptability.

At the risk of paging Captain Obvious, that doesn’t mean you should walk around being a grade-A 1980’s ass about everything. This isn’t a clarion call to ride the wave of an ongoing ego trip. Nor is it a call to arms to instantly develop a superiority complex – which in any event is nearly always an inferiority complex with a wig on.  I’m a great believer in kindness, it’s an incredible life-hack and quite frankly the world needs far, far more of it.    I’m also a believer that if being kind to someone else means being really unkind to yourself it’s an absolute no-go.   

This is about boundaries. It’s about identifying what yours are, establishing them and then being brave enough to have the conviction to defend them.

I like to call this being ‘boundary-fit’.

Without ‘boundary fitness’ you’ll end up emotionally and/or physically spent, twisting yourself into a people-pleasing pretzel, potentially on-your-arse broke and in all sorts of situations that, if you took the time to properly assess and rationalise, you would never do in a million years.

Using a rare day off to carry cardboard boxes up and down 6 flights of stairs to help someone you don’t even like that much to move house? No. Tell them, metaphorically, to fuck off, instead.

Sleep with someone because you felt sorry for them and didn’t want them to ‘feel bad’? No. Tell them, metaphorically, to fuck off instead.

Listen to someone spouting the kind of misogynistic crap that wouldn’t seem out of place coming from the current occupant of the Oval Office? No. Tell them to fuck off. Literally.

And this boundary-setting needs to happen early in life. It’s the stuff we should be teaching our children because although, when we’re younger, we generally have energy to keep the corrosive effects of compulsive people-pleasing at bay (and we can shape the reasons why we do it into instantly more pleasing justification), it can chew you up hard as you get older.

I have got to the point in my life when I would rather have ‘honest conflict’ than ‘dishonest harmony’.

I talked earlier about our inclination toward phrases and thinking that is positively self-affirming, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in living by principles of home-spun philosophy that keep you emotionally insulated.

But however much velvet you encase them in, your boundaries must be enforced with an iron fist and an iron will.

Because if the elephant in the room isn’t addressed – if you’re not true to yourself, to go back to a phrase I used earlier in this piece – then we can quickly find the elephant has become part of a herd that wreaks havoc on its stampede through your psyche 

In a relationship with healthy boundaries, you often won’t have to set boundaries. I have many friendships and business relationships which have never required me to set a boundary. Yet I’ve had other relationships where boundary setting has been necessary. In those cases, after an initial wrangle, we’ve worked it out.

And then there have been the relationships where I’ve set a boundary, they’ve ignored it, I’ve reminded them or I’ve reneged because I felt guilty about setting a boundary (we women can be great at majoring in ‘feeling guilty’), and then the boundaries have been ridden over roughshod until I’ve run out of patience.

And then? Well, then I’ve had no option other than to be firm. And those are the times when it really is okay to tell people to fuck off.

That doesn’t mean you have to say the words. You can be gracious or you can do it by not responding or engaging. But when someone seriously violates your territory or constantly then anger is actually a wholly appropriate response, and clear, unequivocal language is absolutely necessary. 

And yes, in some cases where someone won’t respect the line you’ve drawn then sometimes the boundary has to be: You are no longer in my life.

When is it okay to tell someone in no uncertain terms to cease and desist in their behaviour? 

1. Anyone who tries to ram conspiracy theories down your throat are always ripe for direct communication. These people suck time and emotional space, have an inclination to infect your own sense of self, disrupt your moral and ethical compass and generally vacuum your goodwill.   One thing we don’t need in this world of ours is more paranoia

2. The people who won’t listen to or abide by your polite, kind or gracious declinations of whatever it is they want, are selling or are angling for

3. Absolutely anyone who gives you unsolicited for advice on your life or body. Just point to the wastepaper bin and say: The suggestion box is over there

4. Anyone – and I mean anyone – who has shown themselves to be untrustworthy or disloyal to you. It’s perhaps obvious, but treachery says a good deal about how a person feels about you and the respect they have for you and your needs.

5. Anyone who tells you how you are feeling. It’s fine for someone to share how they feel with you, but when they presume to know how you feel and, worse, how you should feel, then there’s trouble in town.

6. Anyone who falls into all five previous categories. This is pretty much limited to politicians and high-interest loan companies.

A shorthand for deciding who should get your verbal hairdryer treatment is to pay attention to how they make you feel. If someone is making you feel something you don’t want to feel, then the chances are they’re overstepping a boundary.

At that point, set out the boundaries you want them to observe, ask them politely to observe them and, if they don’t?  well you have my full permission to go all Helen Mirren on them and tell them to fuck off.

The Perils Of Co-Habiting With Your Hobby

Beautiful Landscape With Tree Silhouette And Reflection At Sunset With Alone Girl And Bike Under The Tree

“Well, there were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the famous (or perhaps infamous) Panorama interview that Princess Diana gave to Martin Bashir and that answer, in response to his question about whether she felt Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage.

Relationships can be crowded enough with just two people in them, never mind an unwanted interloper who sucks love and mutual respect from them. But it’s not always other people who overcrowd a marriage or long-term relationship.

Sometimes it’s obsession.

We all know someone who’s discovered a new passion. Their enthusiasm for whatever diversion they’ve stumbled across converts them into instant experts – crusading evangelists for whom every road leads to Damascus and the conversion of others.

They are the animated, gushing advocates for their new-found hobby who seem to harness more power than the most tyrannical of fire and brimstone preachers. We might even have been that person ourselves.

We probably admire their dedication, but we wouldn’t want to live with them because the thought of having to live with an apparently unending dialogue about fishing or cycling or macramé is just too awful to contemplate. Yet if that person is in a relationship, that’s the fate that befalls their significant other.

Now, for most people a new hobby becomes all-consuming (and, let’s be honest, really irritating) for short time and then it relaxes into something more considered and reasonable and that person is once again able to find a balance between the interest they have and the need to be able to engage more broadly with life.

But for some people, the obsession grows until it dwarfs – and then obliterates – everything around it. In this sense, the hobby becomes an addiction which can be every bit as destructive to a relationship as alcohol or drugs. 

Personal fitness and sports are common examples, largely because of the naturally addictive ‘drug’ – endorphins – exercise produces. The more people exercise, the more they need to exercise in order to get the natural ‘high’ that comes with it.

But there are others – golf, music, travel … anything that captures the imagination has the potential to become an obsession. And when this happens, there’s a danger that we’re entering into a new relationship – only this time the relationship is with a hobby rather than a person.

This is time and energy we could be potentially taking away from the ’emotional bank account’, a term coined by renowned couples’ therapists John and Julie Gottman which describes the daily moments when we connect with our romantic partner, talk about our day, express affection.

Adding a hobby into the relationship mix – one from which the other person is excluded (whether intentionally or through their own lack of interest) – we can end up generating unresolved feelings of resentment, of being left out and of jealousy.

If these feelings are left unexpressed, they can potentially wreak havoc in a relationship as resentment and the pain of exclusion builds up over time.

What follows is a domino effect. We end up arguing over who used the last bit of milk, or who left the toilet seat up (or down) or who didn’t put the bins out, when really it’s got nothing to do with those things at all.

Ultimately that turns into regular conflict and the creation of distance in the relationship. The more we fail get to the root issue, the more likely it is that the conflict increases or the distance and sense of leading separate lives grows.

But what is it that causes us to develop an excessive relationship with a hobby? There are a few possible reasons.

First, it feels good – like when we release endorphins during exercise. We’re spending time doing something we enjoy and that gives us a sense of achievement.

But if we begin to indulge a hobby to the exclusion of other parts of our lives, it’s a sign that unconsciously we may be avoiding intimacy. We may be using our hobby as a distraction from what’s really going on.

There could be underlying issues in the relationship that need to be spoken about but we don’t know how to approach those issues or start the conversations we need to have in order to resolve them. This is where seeking support and advice could be the essential next steps in moving forward in your relationship. 

One option to find a way forward is to take some time alone or with someone we trust to talk and reflect on what it is we may be avoiding or distracting ourselves from.

Did we already feel the relationship was faltering, making us want to spend more time outside of it? Were we experiencing an increase in conflict that was not being addressed or resolved? Maybe we felt our partner was also spending time and energy elsewhere and so we felt forced to do the same thing and develop our own hobby? 

We can look at creating the time and space when their partner is in a good space to listen and talk things through.

That means letting our partner know there’s something important we want to talk about and then creating the right context for that conversation – no distractions, phones off, kids in bed, both feeling as prepared as possible to have an important discussion free from interruptions. 

If you initiate a conversation without warning it can lead to defensiveness and the person feeling like they are under attack. And when we feel like we are being attacked, our decision-making, logical-thinking pre frontal cortex brain literally goes offline. So, at this point it will be very difficult to have an adult, calm and respectful conversation. 

Then there’s the actual process having the conversation. Communicating with each other. Giving space to each other and when the partner is sharing what’s going on for them – allowing them to share freely without reacting immediately to what’s being said.

The conversation is an opportunity for both people to share how the hobby is impacting on the relationship and also for the person with the hobby to share any underlying issues they feel might have contributed to their excessive relationship with the hobby.

Sometimes it can be really difficult to have these conversations, and this is where working with someone such as our Love, Relationship & Sexuality Coach Emma Spiegler, can not only be the provision of a safe space to explore the issues lurking behind the conscious or unconscious avoidance of intimacy, but also a good place to discover how to resolve these issues and turn towards their partner with openness and love and invest into the emotional bank account.   

Are You ‘Fed’ Up With Twixtmas?

Female Feet Standing On Electronic Scales For Weight Control In Red Socks With Christmas Decoration

How are we doing over there? Have you managed to make a dent on the mountain of snacks and nibbles that made your cupboard look like a post-apocalyptic food store (who knew the shops would only be closed for just one day, right?)

If you’re like most of the country, you’re probably wedged into an armchair watching The Sound of Music (which, by the way, you hate), ploughing through a tin of Quality Street you don’t need or want – because, well, it’s Christmas, dammit! – and muttering darkly about losing weight.

Over the past few weeks there’s been a lot of online chat about exactly this subject. How to rid yourself of the extra pounds that pile on while you digest the aperitif that is Christmas and await the entrée that is New Year. A time of year known by some as Twixtmas and by others as the somewhat ruder perineum. Go ahead and look that up. We’ll wait.

It occurred to me that there was a common theme to all the social media, blogs and online articles, which was the assumptions they made about what causes weight gain and what motivates us to then lose it.

By and large, the overriding message is a bit simplistic: if you really want to lose weight, just eat less.

Biologically, of course, that’s completely true. In the end, the metabolic science behind gaining and losing weight is about as simple as it gets:

If you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll put weight on. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. So far, so obvious.

Things get a bit more complicated – though only slightly, in truth – when you factor in individual metabolic rate (some people have a slow metabolism, others burn energy more quickly). And we can ramp up the complexity a bit more by adding in particular health conditions that impact the metabolism.

But in the end, the formula is the same and from a purely metabolic, biological perspective, if you adjust your calorie intake so that it’s either equal to or less than the calories you burn, you’ll either maintain or lose weight.

It may not suit the story we tell ourselves, but steroids, an underactive thyroid, Cushing’s Syndrome or diabetes – four common conditions often ‘blamed’ for unwanted weight gain – aren’t responsible alone for how you might look or feel. That’s down to how you mitigate their impact.

Shedding some of the mince pies you’ve consumed during the two weeks of Christmas is one thing, but habits like comfort or binge eating that you find impossible to change are quite another.

On the surface, it’s not difficult to see how obesity and the food consumption that leads to it can be interpreted as laziness or indifference. 

Yet, what the ‘just stop eating so much’ brigade fail to either understand or acknowledge is that for many people who struggle with weight, their relationship with food isn’t about greed or gluttony. Neither is it an inability or disinclination to temper their eating habits.

It’s about a psychology that is so deeply and fundamentally ingrained they don’t even associate their ongoing weight issues with the state of their mental health.

Yes, on a visceral level, people who are chronically overweight probably have a sense that they’re not entirely happy in life.

Some, though not all, will struggle with the way they look and feel. If they step on the scales at all or look in the mirror (avoidance of both is actually far more likely), they won’t necessarily see that the extra pounds are the calling card of some distant emotional trauma or unresolved emotional disappointments that the subconscious has long-since erased from the memory.

These damaging experiences often, but not always, relate to pent-up disappointments in the vast library of a subconscious that remembers everything – particularly everything that is painful, confusing or negative.

Troubling or just flattening experiences in our past can become so deeply buried that we either have no longer have any recollection of them or we do have conscious recollection but just have no idea e haven’t processed the event or disappointment and moved on.

Then there are the unhelpful beliefs that shape our behaviour – old time classics like believing we’re not good enough, that nothing works out for us, that there’s something wrong with us, that we can’t get what we want in life.

We may not spend our daily lives consciously thinking these negative thoughts, yet they still sit lodged in our subconscious, perfectly formed hand grenades that were created by disappointing, flattening or even shattering experiences from which we have not fully healed.

(A word to the wise here: don’t believe what they tell you about time – it’s not always the great healer people like to believe it is because the subconscious has absolutely no concept of time whatsoever. As far as your subconscious is concerned, that damaging experience might just as well have happened yesterday).

The result is often a daily feeling of boredom – which, when you dig a bit deeper and investigate it properly, is usually impotent rage and/or frustration – flatness, mild or not so mild depression or anxiety.

And what do we do in response? We eat on! 

The subconscious works hard to keep things that way, offering appealing (and sometimes not-so-appealing) distractions designed to block any prospect of having to face them down.

Food isn’t the only soother, but it’s often the drug of choice, especially for women. In many ways it’s the least harmful drug of choice – it’s obviously far better to be eating too many slices of pizza than banging the gak on a daily basis – but it’s still a life inhibitor.

If you don’t feel happy with your own eating habits and your body then the risk is a compromised sense of self-respect. And it can delay you actually living your life. Many people I work with put off doing things until they have ‘lost the weight’ – things like looking for a relationship, for example – so it can be a real life-stopper.

It’s important to love the body you’re in, and that’s fine as long as you do – but if you’re unhappy then it’s your prerogative to do something about it. 

That doesn’t mean beating yourself up about how you look (that’s a whole other blog), but if you want positive change and want to feel good about yourself then that is absolutely something worth fighting for.

If losing weight healthily is part of that – and I want to stress the word healthily here, since so much emphasis is put on looks and body image, and the last thing I want to do here is add to that – then more power to you.

Any addictive or negative compulsive behaviour can be a candidate: alcohol is a common one; shopping, gambling and drugs are others among many.

Lots of us have a love/hate relationship with food and alcohol that manifests itself in weight gain and can probably be described as ‘normal’ even if it’s not exactly ideal and in those cases a healthier lifestyle is the important step that’s needed to get back into shape.

But where food consumption (and therefore weight) is governed by trauma, life becomes an emotionally draining rollercoaster of crash diets and punishing exercise regimes that work for a while until the subconscious pulls up the mental drawbridge and convinces you that what you really need is cake. 

Food (or any other coping behaviour) becomes the currency of reward. Got through a challenging day? Well done, says the subconscious, you’ve earned a pizza.

To vandalise the art of Fat Boy Slim, it’s an exhausting and, ultimately, futile cycle of eat, sleep, crave, repeat that is destined to continue until we deal with what’s really causing us to behave as we do.

Trauma therapy untangles the carefully-constructed web the subconscious has weaved, supporting you to recognise and acknowledge what’s happened in the past and helping you to reach an acceptance that allows you to process the event or events.

The processing – or resolution – is central to the healing process and hypnotherapy for trauma or feelings you just don’t want to face facilitates this in a safe, secure environment designed to protect you.

However much we might like to believe it’s possible to change the way we respond to trauma without going through this process, I know from experience that it’s not.  The only way is ‘through’.  

Treating the symptoms might mask the problem for a while, helping you to convince yourself that you’re free from the shackles of food or drugs or bad financial decisions. But the thing about trauma or unresolved emotions is that eventually it will come calling again.

And it might be obvious, but we’ll say it again anyway: not all weight issues are linked to trauma. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds you’re struggling to shift but you’re broadly happy with yourself and your food relationships, then hypnotherapy for weight loss could be the little kickstart you need.

But if you’re eating even though you’re desperate not to, can recognise damaging patterns in when and how you eat, know your weight makes you camera-, mirror- and scales-shy and the problem is a daily issue, it could just be there’s something in your past that you need to deal with to be able to move on as you’d like.

By asking for help and support to resolve the issues you’re dealing with, you’ll find yourself better equipped to live life to the full and no longer compelled to ‘eat on your feelings’.

If you feel like you need help and support in your relationship with food, or if you simply want to shed a few pounds to shake off the excess of Christmas, then our amazing weight loss expert Sandy Robson is someone you need to spend some time with.

From tackling entrenched eating disorders to providing the small mindset change needed to kickstart a healthier lifestyle, Sandy offers tailored support, which can include the amazingly effective and non-invasive Virtual Gastric Band. You can find out more about Sandy and book a consultation with her by clicking here.

Unwrap Your Zen This Christmas

Broken Christmas Ornament

Well done, you made it! To misquote John Lennon, another year over and a new one just about to begin. Now there’s just the tricky issue of Christmas to navigate and it’s plain sailing all the way into 2019, right?

Well, yes – but that’s easier said than done.

Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve seen quite a lot of stuff online about why Christmas is a terrible time of the year.

I don’t know, maybe the mood of the moment is to be fed up with life. I don’t know why that should be the case, and maybe we should blame Brexit for it, since that seems to be responsible for everything else that people perceive to be wrong in life generally these days.

I think for most people, Christmas is a wonderful time of year (though, as I said in the article I wrote this time last year, we should be careful about setting our expectations too high and constructing an ideal that the festive season will never match), but there’s no doubt that for others it can also be a something to be dreaded.

Bereavement, grief, loss and isolation are all obvious triggers for issues around emotional wellbeing at Christmas. This is, after all, the time of year that trades heavily in the currency of togetherness and companionship shared in the warm glow of fairy lights and flaming Christmas puddings.

But because those raw emotions are so all-consuming, they’re easier to recognise even if they’re not easy to resolve. Support, empathy and care are always much more forthcoming when the symptoms of emotional discomfort are in plain sight.

It’s the invisible emotional damage that carries the heftiest price tag at Christmas.

So, what are the things that can make up the worst that this best of seasons has to offer?

Your bank account is empty, and your credit cards are maxed out

Yep. Christmas is ridiculously expensive. But a lot of us get sucked into the artificial bauble-strewn dream that the advertising executives create in our heads. In this fantasy, we are the kings and queens of the big gesture. It’s the marquee gift we can ill-afford and would never buy in a month of Sundays.

It’s the heady whirl of office parties, bring-a-bottle Christmas gatherings, meals out, the ridiculous must have bird-within-a-bird-within-a-bird roast (what the hell is that all about, anyway?), the Kuwait-sized oil reserves needed to fuel your car on the endless round of family visits to far-flung corners of the UK.

It’s the constant whirl of party invitations you feel you must attend if only to stop everyone getting all judgy behind your back. It’s the several dozen new dresses you need to buy with money you haven’t got (because you spent it all on presents for other people) so you don’t commit ultimate fashion faux pas of being seen out in the same frock twice (celebrities have much to answer for here).

In supermarkets, stress levels go through the roof to the point where people actually fight over the last turkey. I’m sure there are large numbers of people who think Armageddon is just around the corner. How else do you explain someone bulk buying 48 loaves of bread and enough double cream to bathe in?

And it goes on, and on, and on. Christmas is officially a crazy time of year when all rational sense goes out of the window.

What that leads to is stress and worry about how you’re going to afford the things that really do matter. So, here’s a thought: don’t spend as much as you think you should.

Maybe it’s too late to send back the marquee present, but if it isn’t, send it back. If you haven’t bought it yet, don’t. Get people to come to you. Be a rebel. Say no to the infinity-bird nonsense and buy an affordable joint of meat for Christmas dinner instead – you’ll probably enjoy it more anyway.

Do we really have to spend Christmas with your parents?

Uh-huh. Christmas. The season of spending precious time you haven’t got with people you’d normally go to great lengths to avoid. And all right, the in-laws are an easy (and therefore lazy) stereotype, but whoever it is you’re spending time with begrudgingly this Christmas, that’s who we mean.

Family are the friends who get chosen for you and the dynamics aren’t always easy. If you’re in a relationship, the pressure to play happy families is intense, every interaction a potential emotional grenade. Especially if the conversation turns to Brexit.

If your Christmas social commitments might be a trigger for conflict, it might just be worth reaching an understanding with your partner ahead of time about putting a sensible limit on the amount of time you’re each expected to spend with the people who you find difficult.

And it’s not just about having an agreement with your partner, either. It’s also about having an agreement with yourself about how and when you take a break from situations and people who trigger strong negative emotion.

Christmas is a joyful time, but it’s also a time when we’re expected to get along with everyone – and the fact is there are people who’ll do your head in whether it’s Christmas or not. Many a falling out has been avoided by a strategically-taken head-cooling walk round the block.

Can I pour you another?

I think I must have missed the memo where it became compulsory to consume the entire stock in the Sainsbury wine and spirit aisle in a single week. Yet such is the stress associated with this time of the year that over-enthusiastic self-medication seems to be the order of the season.

Beer, wine, whiskey (or more likely, given the trend of 2018, herbal-infused gin), cider, it doesn’t matter as long as it numbs the stress, right? Wrong. Because before long you’re going to be Jagerbombing your way to acute embarrassment, more stress and pitiless self-recrimination. All of which you’re going to need to face with a hangover.

Alcohol is probably best avoided altogether in stressful situations – it’s rarely the answer to the problem you’re trying to resolve.

Molehill, meet mountain

The thing about Christmas, from a mental health perspective, is that it’s the world’s largest magnifying glass, and it comes with a festive soundtrack. Chris De Burgh may well be on the radio singing about peace on earth and goodwill to all men, but that counts for nothing when you’re alongside Chis Rea, top to toe in tailbacks (tailbacks, your partner helpfully reminds you, that you could have avoided if you weren’t such a bloody slave to the satnav).

The queue for the tills at Boots are so long you need to bivouac overnight to reach them and TK Maxx looks like Glastonbury, but without the really great bands.

Everything that’s annoying gets magnified. As a result, tempers fray, sensible heads overheat, and words are said that will still be quoted back to you, accompanied by a savage expression, the following June.

Because these miss-you nights are the longest

After a few Pernod & Blacks, there’s a good chance you’ll start to feel nostalgic about an old relationship. You’ll forget that neither of you had been happy for at least three millennia and the whole thing imploded in a carnival of finger-pointing and shouting that lasted well into the early hours, when you left their house and spent the night sleeping in your car.

Christmas is a time when the memories we create are most vivid, and because we spend a lot of time around people who are also pretending to have the jolliest of jolly times, we start to convince ourselves that whilst the grass on the other side might be covered in snow, it is nevertheless almost certainly greener than what’s currently growing under our own feet.

And so, for some of us, Yuletide is a time when we mourn what we once had and consider ourselves poorer for it. But a bit like the Christmas fantasy we’ve been conditioned to believe in, it’s not reality.

Since when did it become a requirement of Christmas to be in a relationship, anyway? If you are, and you’re happy, then fantastic. I’m genuinely pleased for you. But if you’re not, you shouldn’t be feeling like you’ve failed in some way.

It’s totally okay to be single. In fact, it’s healthier to be happily single than it is to be in some awful relationship just because some idiotic social convention says you really should be seeing someone. That’s not actually a thing. It never was.

In short, Christmas is a time when it’s easy to lose sight of what’s good in your life. It’s a time when we feel pressure to be happy and joyful and carefree actually feel worse because our own reality doesn’t shape up to that expectation.

If you really want to be happy this Christmas, you’ll need to make sure you’re serving up a good dose of realism with the chestnut stuffing. That doesn’t mean you need to be the Grinch. But it probably does mean putting yourself first when every instinct is telling you not to.

Whatever your take on Christmas, we wish a merry one for you. But to really enjoy it, you have to remember that it’s just one day. Just one period of 24 hours. It’s not some kind of witching hour where you have to have everything in your life figured out.  It really doesn’t have to mean so much.  

You’re a work in progress. We all are. As humans, we are things of beauty because we are imperfect. Christmas is chaotic, but it should be chaotic in a way that leaves you breathless in a good way. So, be kind to yourself – you’ve earned it.

No, really…. it’s absolutely OK to love who you are

Red Heart

The ego can be a thing of terrible beauty – rampantly cocksure one moment, fragile as parchment the next.

It is capable of inspiring and propelling us to moments of true greatness, leaving others around us lost in the backwash of its afterburners. And then, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instant, it can plunge us into self-doubt and self-loathing.

Ego defines our emotional and psychological essence, a wild animal that paces the cage we lock it in. We feed it and it grows. We starve it and it shrinks. We neglect it and it becomes savage.

Often, its food of choice – or, perhaps more accurately at least, the diet we choose to feed it – is the approval and love of others. Our daily interactions with other humans – and machines, actually – can be boiled down into simple transactions of approval and disapproval, an ongoing exercise in the mutual business of validation, judgement, recognition and acknowledgement.

For the most part, these things are largely trivial. It’s the smile from the barista when they hand us a skinny white decaf. It’s the grateful flash of headlights from another driver when you stop to let them through. It’s recognition from a slight acquaintance who remembers you. It’s when someone likes your Facebook post or retweets you.

Other elements of our transactional relationships have more weight: praise and emotional or financial reward at work, the spontaneous show of unconditional and unsolicited affection from a partner, the return of romantic interest from someone we find attractive, the pride of a parent.

And just as this apparent positive validation of our worth to society feeds our ego, fattening it that it might grow, a lack of validation or, worse, active disapproval of our sense of being and value brings self-doubt and, in extremis, self-loathing when we are not anchored by a healthy foundation of self love.

If the essence of who we are – the ego – really is a wild animal, then it’s in our own self-interest to tame it.

But we also need to understand that ego can never be truly housetrained, because there are emotions as volatile as quicksilver that inherently make up its DNA – anger, passion and love, for example – and these are not only an intrinsic part of who we are but are also, in moderation, part of a healthy psyche.

So, what does it take to temper, if not wholly tame, the beast? Ultimately, it comes down to understanding that the most important validation we receive is the validation we give ourselves.

In short, it’s about realising – and then accepting – that it’s absolutely all right to love ourselves.

We are conditioned by society to believe that self-appreciation is ill-disguised vanity, a character trait more deserving of scorn than respect.

But there is a fundamental difference between self-validation and vainglory. The quiet self-reassurance that confirms our own worth and value and integrity as a human being is the polar opposite of wanton boastfulness that is the progenitor of envy.

Like all things, we need to practise self-love daily in order to turn it into habit. We do that by choosing not to beat ourselves up, by not abandoning ourselves through the choices we make and by removing ourselves with dignity from harmful or toxic situations and people.

Self-love is about having the strength of character, psychologically and emotionally, so that the positive view of yourself is unaffected – or, at the very least, less affected – when someone in your orbit decides to be a dick about who or what you are.

And in turn, we find we can recover from painful situations more quickly because we don’t become lost in their afterburners.

An absence of self-love leaves us horribly vulnerable to the ego’s swings in response to validation or disapproval.

That makes for a rocky road through life, one paved with a corrosive and submissive need to please everyone in the pursuit of their love and appreciation. It is the road upon which we develop an anodyne and vanilla mask behind which our true self hides.

With self-love we understand and accept we can’t please all the people all the time, that we will piss people off and that the world beyond the parapet is sometimes an unforgiving place in which we absolutely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

It’s about allowing your self-belief and self-respect to be absolutely unshakeable despite the fact someone else might not see you for who and what you really are.

It’s about not letting someone tell you that you can’t do something.

It’s about learning to trust yourself and always listening to your intuition above all else no matter how experienced or demonstrative the person giving you advice.

Above all, loving yourself for being you doesn’t mean others will also see you as you see yourself. It doesn’t mean your boss or your colleague or your lover or the barista will treat you as you deserve to be treated. Bottom line? It won’t stop that dick being a dick.

You won’t suddenly be without flaws. You won’t find yourself exalted to a pedestal or adored, Kardashian-style, on social media. You won’t necessarily be everyone’s must-have friend.

Self-love doesn’t make you exempt from criticism and it doesn’t mean you won’t experience toxic behaviour.

But it does mean you won’t tolerate that, and the effects of others’ behaviour and actions won’t be something you stick in your emotional suitcase and wheel around with you for evermore.

Self-love isn’t about being perfect (and what the hell is that even, anyway?) It’s about being good enough for yourself to live with, and strong enough to choose not to live around the people who’d prefer to see you as something less than that.

The festive season is almost upon us, so do yourself a favour this Christmas and give yourself the gift of self-acceptance. Walk tall and proud and relax, knowing you’re already enough, regardless of how much you might want to still improve.

Be you. It’s the most exquisite gift you’ll unwrap this year.

Why This Government’s Stance On Mental Health Is Nothing More Than Tokenism

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Doubtless the Whitehall apparatchiks thought themselves terribly clever when they sold the Prime Minister the notion that using World Mental Health Day to launch the Government’s new mental health would be a brilliant PR coup.

Enter Jackie Doyle-Price, stage political right. A junior minister within the Department of Health, Mrs Doyle-Price is probably more celebrated for her apparently bottomless supply of hairstyles than for any great political achievement in her 8-year Parliamentary career to date.

Yet this week she finds herself paraded before the world as the UK’s dazzling solution to the problem of suicide. Sadly, though, our very first Minister for Suicide Prevention is unlikely to be the last participant in a very grand tradition of political tokenism and bureaucratic grandstanding.

Perhaps the sharpness of Mrs Doyle-Price’s haircuts is matched by her political acumen. She may be terribly good company at dinner parties, a raconteur of some repute over an amuse bouche or two, a selfless benefactor of good causes and a lover of defenceless animals.

What she most assuredly isn’t is the answer to the problem of suicide in your village, town or city.

I have found, over the years, that the sheer scale of the mental health crisis not just here, but across the world, is simply unquantifiable. No adjective yet exists to adequately describe the size of the problem this country faces in its ongoing provision of social and mental care. Choose any word you like – gargantuan, monstrous, enormous, huge, humongous, massive, colossal – and you’ll find it is a mere David to the Goliath that rains continuous blows upon a failing NHS system.

Equally indescribable is the amount of cold hard cash it will take to make even the smallest of dents in that problem.

The total Government annual spend is currently estimated at around £800bn (£772bn, if you want to be slightly more accurate). In the context of the true cost of treating mental health in the UK – as opposed to what the Government currently spends on it – that figure is chickenfeed.

To put it into some context, only a week or so ago the Health Secretary Matt Hancock was all over the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, like a well-cut but somewhat cheap overcoat, shouting about £20bn of new investment for the NHS. Money which, by the way, he intends to spend updating the service’s computers and reducing wait times for appointments.

So, when a junior Government minister is suddenly wheeled, wild-eyed and sporting a new haircut, into the limelight as the answer to all our prayers on suicide, you’ll forgive me when I ask just what Coco and his big-shoed friends in the dusty offices of Whitehall think the scale of the problem actually is.

Because if £20bn only allows one computer to talk to another, it doesn’t take membership of MENSA to work out that we’ll need a boatload more cash than that to even scratch the surface of the mental health issues that cause desperate people to take their own lives.

But I can hear you already. Oh Zoe, you’re saying, don’t be so negative! At least the Government has taken a positive step in the right direction.

Well yes, but only if the limit of one’s ambition stretches only as far as accepting that anything is better than nothing.

And by the way, just how positive is the appointment of a Minister for the Prevention of Suicide, anyway? No one will argue the fact that even one suicide is a tragedy, never mind more – and least of all me. But the fact is that 4,500 people committed suicide last year – and the rate actually falling.

So, it’s tempting, if possibly unfair, to conclude today’s news is a cynical attempt to make hay in the sunshine of World Mental Health Day and invest not very much in fighting a battle that statistics suggest is already being managed.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need to tackle the issue or that we should ignore the underlying causes – and in fact, this article argues for greater Government investment in that endeavour rather than less. But if you want only to further reduce the number of deaths by suicide, give the money to the Samaritans.

Jackie Doyle-Price was paid the thick end of £76,000 last year. The Samaritans could do quite a lot with that sort of money, I’d imagine.

More interesting, perhaps, is the question of why the Government has targeted the suicide rate specifically. It seems so incongruously arbitrary.  Why not a Minister for the Prevention of Alzheimers Disease (850,000 UK sufferers), or depression (6 million), or anxiety (3 million), or eating disorders (1.6 million) or any number of other, serious mental health issues that affect huge tranches of the population on a daily basis?

Surely the Government is missing the point here and ignoring the apparently obvious fact that something has gone terribly wrong long before someone decides to end their own life. If we’re going to prevent someone’s suicide, surely to goodness we need to be intervening much earlier in that individual’s mental decline, don’t we?

We need to raise awareness of the issues that sit behind the needless end of a life: generations of stepped down trauma, childhood trauma and other hidden triggers that lead to mental health issues, anxiety, depression and addiction from which suicide eventually seems the only escape.

Which brings us back to the tricky subject of money. The reality is that this Government and its predecessors of various colours have been either unwilling or unable to invest the necessary cash to support intervention where it’s needed – on trauma awareness, rapid support and ongoing treatment. So, and as usual, it focuses on a sticking plaster solution.

Whichever way you look at it, one can’t help but feel this appointment has come in the backwash of a passing bandwagon, a sop to ease the growing clamour for a plan – any plan – to deal with the mounting social care crisis. Something sporting an interesting haircut and which a beleaguered Government can point to and say, look, we’re really doing something about mental health.

When really it’s doing anything at all.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, recently quoted a figure of ‘£40bn and counting’ when asked the cost to date of Britain’s painfully drawn-out exit from Europe. Compare that figure to the £215m investment in school mental health support which Theresa May announced this time last year. The Government spent four times that amount just on libraries last year, for pity’s sake!

Are we really to believe that the Jackie Doyle-Price represents an administration which is serious about arresting the parlous decline of mental health in this country? Or should we succumb to the nagging suspicion that her unveiling is redolent of a government which lacks both wit and wisdom and is busy pulling up a chair in the fast-emptying Last Chance Saloon?

There is no easy solution to the mental health crisis and those answers that may be options come at an eyewatering price. We should all be thankful for the myriad free services that do their best to meet growing demand for mental health services. It’s invidious to name some and not others, but whether for addiction, PTSD, trauma, depression, anxiety, the volunteer-led recovery and support programmes that are there to catch people when they fall do more every day to address the issues than a Minister for Suicide Prevention can ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.

And if you’ve made the mistake of interpreting this as a denouncement of Jackie Doyle-Price’s integrity as a politician, it’s absolutely not. The chalice from which she has been encouraged to drink is unquestionably poisoned, but there is no reason to question her intentions.

What is in question is the integrity of a Government that plays fast and loose with such an emotionally raw subject as suicide by stooping to grubby PR stunts with no hope or intention of matching its words with the budget required to be true to them.

Are You Dating From Defecit? Picnic

In a shade over six months the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union. Whatever your view of that in principle, the matter of Britain’s membership is a debate that has long since been obsolete. Our love affair with Europe is in its death throes and come next March the political equivalent of a decree absolute will formally be signed by all parties.

Our departure is no longer about the financial terms of the divorce, either. 

Events over the weekend (which largely unfolded in The Daily Mail at the pen of Boris Johnson) and this morning, as it was revealed that at least 80 Conservative MPs will vote against Theresa May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ deal, have ensured that the immediate post-referendum arguments over whether or not the NHS would get another £350m a week are also now entirely moot.

The big question today is whether we will have any sort of formal relationship with the rest of Europe at all. 

And as we career toward the increasingly likely reality of crashing out of Europe without a deal, there is a growing clamour from the cheap seats to suggest the Prime Minister finds herself in the uncomfortable position of trying to broker a new relationship with Europe from a position of total weakness.

There will be a relationship of some sort simply because there must be. Our economy is not built to allow us to be a Bridget Jones-style singleton restricted solely to slightly grubby one-night stands behind a skip with the US or China. We need the love of Europe if only because so much of our economy relies on her.

So, what has all that got to do with love and romance? Well, quite a lot as it happens, because people who are dating from deficit – where one person believes they have nothing to bring to the relationship but requires a lot in return – is something we see a lot.

What this boils down to in effect is that people can see a potential relationship as the be-all and end-all answer for not feeling good about themselves or as a substitute for whatever they think might be missing in their life – and the result is that they begin to outsource their self-esteem, passing responsibility for their emotional wellbeing to someone else. While that may be the easiest option – subconsciously or otherwise – looking after your emotional wellbeing isn’t someone else’s job.

And anyway, your self-esteem is far too precious to entrust to someone else. The start, or even whiff, of a new relationship can be like getting a regular dose of laughing gas. It can numb the pain you feel and can make you feel invincible. For a while. 

But it’s always a temporary respite and given how you value yourself affects your perception of yourself and others, your self-respect and your basic judgement, there’s a highly rational argument to say the last thing you should be doing is making yourself available and, therefore, vulnerable at the very moment you really need all those attributes to be fully functional.

As Natalie Lue, the queen of all things self-esteem, says:  If you can’t date with your self-esteem in tow, wait until you can

Natalie is essential reading for anyone struggling with self-esteem in relationships and has written an incredible blog on the subject. 

In the end, there isn’t actually a short cut to loving ourselves. We see plenty of people in unhappy relationships with themselves and significant others as evidence of this.

When we take shortcuts, we have to accept the fact there will be consequences every time we abandon the loyalty and responsibility we have for our emotional wellbeing. Those consequences manifest themselves in how we feel, how things go and what happens in the future.

Occasionally it’s quite liberating to damn the consequences and not do due diligence during the dating process, but if that becomes the default solution to every situation life throws at you and you’re not ultimately true to who you are and need to be, then eventually the wheels are going to come off in the howl of tearing emotional metal that will leave you broken at the side of life’s busy highway.

As therapists we’re fond of saying that the best relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. If it sounds like it’s a cliché then that’s probably because it is – in the same way that every truism is, by definition, a cliché. 

But when you understand you’re the only person you can rely on to love you for who you’re meant to be, and then live that reality, you’ll find other people will love you for exactly the same reasons. And if they don’t love you, they’ll certainly respect you for it.

In contrast, when you set out to please others before you satisfy your own emotional needs you’re more likely to find your self-esteem is the doormat on which they start to wipe their feet – even if they want to cross the threshold into an intimate relationship with you in the first place

It may be that you’re sitting there thinking, it’s all very well saying I need to love myself, but I don’t like who I am! If that’s the case, then guess what? You got it – you need to change your belief system so that you can give yourself fully to you.

When you create boundaries for yourself and can see the value in who you are and what you stand for, the sketchy behaviour that defines the way other people treat us and behave around us also changes positively. And the reason’s simple: in the first place, we’re far less likely to put up with rubbish behaviour from others. If we have good boundaries, and if we’re used to feeling good about ourselves, we’ll recognise when the person we are dating does the opposite; but if we’re used to feeling bad about ourselves then being treated badly by someone will feel incredibly familiar.   

You know that anyway, right? Because most of us have had those moments when we discovered the best things arrive when we’re not trying for them. The way we think and feel about ourselves is not only highly visible – it’s also highly infectious. When we have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to tolerate sketchy behaviour. And the reverse is also true.

If we always arrive at a potential relationship with our self-worth in the red, the chances are we’ll only inspire the person on the opposite side of the candlelit dinner to do one of two things: either they’ll call it a day after the first date; or take emotional advantage of us in a relationship that to all intents and purposes looks normal from the outside but on the inside boasts all the attributes you’d normally associate with a snake pit. 

At worst, we’ll end up spending – and wasting – a significant part of our lives with someone who matches who we are, because nothing creates deficit more effectively than unhelpful narratives about ourselves or the opposite sex.

Those narratives are very popular, and they become self-fulfilling and include:

There are no men/women left for you;

All women/men are psychos;

Men only like young women 

All men cheat;

You can’t meet anyone over your own age;

All women are money grabbers / emotionally unstable  

You only ever attract narcissists

You always get hurt 

You’re doomed to be single forever

These limiting beliefs will do a fabulous job of keeping your victim story alive and kicking, give your first dates the tightest screening outside of airport security, fortify your walls like nothing else, and continue attracting all the negative things out there that there are to attract (yes, these negatives definitely exist, but it’s about learning to see the signs and avoid them).

Insistence creates investment. More than that, what we fear we unconsciously attract, what we resist (getting hurt) persists, what we focus on we get more of – and these beliefs either make you feel terrible about yourself or paint the opposite sex as utter monsters – neither of which will bring you the healthy relationship you desire.

When we believe negative things about ourselves we are also much more likely to be subject to what I call scarcity thinking – and then you end up accepting much less then you truly deserve.

If we don’t think we are lovable (remembering that flawed human traits can still very much be lovable) why would we expect anyone else to?   If we can’t ‘live’ with ourselves why would we expect to find someone who can?  

The good news is that no matter how estranged you and your self-esteem have become, your relationship with yourself is always salvageable. It takes work and effort and, often, the support of a professional therapist – but nothing is ever irretrievable.

Relationships are a mirror of our relationship with ourselves so the most worthwhile thing you can do before going out dating is create a really solid foundation of self-love for yourself, which you do by challenging all the outdated toxic harmful beliefs you have about yourself, relationships, love and the opposite sex and changing them to neutral or positive beliefs that support and uphold you. 

If you don’t, you might just find you’re forced to come up with a relationship plan that even you can’t vote for.

The Inconvenient Truth About Quick Fire Therapy

Squashed Food Cheeseburger

Walk into any of the big three fast food restaurants these days and the chances are the emphasis will be on getting you in and out as quickly as possible.

The technology is designed to allow you to order your food, pay for it and then collect it from a collection point when it’s ready.

In possibly the only instance where it was actually ahead of the curve when it came to retail trends, this ‘convenience’ approach to buying was originally pioneered by catalogue store Argos.

On the surface, this ‘hit and run’ approach is a good thing when it comes to the fast food industry because in principle – and the words in principle are the kicker here – it serves both ends of the sale process: you want your food quickly, the restaurant wants to move you on so it can sell its tasty burgers someone else.

And in principle, that should work regardless of what is being traded. A cheap and cheerful piece of furniture from a catalogue, a dress in M&S or trauma therapy from your hypnotherapist.

Except, we’re talking about principle rather than reality and reality and principle are a long way from being the same thing. Especially when it comes to how you treat and manage mental health.

How often, for example, have you walked into a Kentucky Fried McBurger King and your food turns out at best lukewarm and at worst downright cold? Why is that? The answer’s pretty simple: on average Kentucky Fried McBurger King has worked out it sells a certain amount of Tower King MacWhoppers every hour and so, to speed up the process of selling them to you – and to ensure you get your meal as fast as possible so the next person in line gets their Tower King MacWhopper as fast as possible – the food is cooked not to order but to an artificial expectation of what the next person in line is likely to order.

The result? Lots of people get what they ordered at the right temperature, many people get what they ordered at the wrong temperature and some people get something they never ordered in the first place.

Now apply those principles to the world of hypnotherapy and what you get are too many hypontherapists who make it their business to offer a quick fix to whatever ails you.

These are the people who completely dismiss regression therapy as slow and old-fashioned, requiring unnecessary time and – they would argue – heartache in unpicking the past to identify what’s causing the problem today.

It’s the equivalent of walking into a restaurant and having the wine waiter thrust a bottle of Blue Nun at you with the words: “You’ll like this. Everyone does.”

Regression therapy was the first thing I was trained in and many years and many clients later I’m even more convinced than ever that it’s simply impossible to treat complex, multi-layered issues such as abandonment trauma, narcissistic wounding, abuse, neglect, repetition compulsion and severe and complex trauma without first acknowledging the past and the impact it has on the psyche. 

At their very best, superficial techniques will only ever paper over the psychological cracks. Beyond the critical issue of whether the patient or client receives the treatment they actually need, there’s also a question of ethics here.

We live in a world where everyone wants a quick fix to everything and so when someone claims they can heal you in one session, the temptation to sign up immediately is enormous. But I think we have a duty of care that requires us to be brutally honest.

Masking symptoms is not the same as curing or healing and if you want to be a good hypnotherapist with a career that has longevity, you’re going to need to properly learn how to navigate a client through the shark-infested emotional waters of severe and complex trauma.

There is – and always has been – a slew of superficial techniques that are peddled by those looking to make a quick return. It’s the therapy equivalent of a gastric bypass. And for mild conditions and issues like nail biting, mild to moderate phobias and some anxieties, they can be fantastic.

Complex trauma is different.

It’s common to see clients who haven’t acknowledged the underlying trauma which is manifesting as the issue. But it’s the therapist’s job and responsibility to guide them to understand why the issue has manifested as it is.

People are great apologists for how they feel – “Yeah, but there are people out there with much worse childhoods than mine” – but this is a coping mechanism that helps them to avoid acknowledging their own emotions. As therapists we’re there to help them to recognise and deal with their own pain, which is the only route to good mental health. What other people experience is more irrelevant than they could possibly imagine.

By unlocking the emotions that are locked into us at the time of the event, we are able to then deal with their presenting issue.

But if the hypnotherapist involved is uncomfortable talking about the past or sees it as an unnecessary or dirty process, that release simply can’t happen. Worse, it’s tantamount to colluding with the patient in minimising and denying the past and helping to unconsciously reinforce the sense of shame they feel.

That in turn leads to further compartmentalisation – which ultimately is what the client is already presenting with. The result? The client feels temporarily better, but the real issue goes unacknowledged, untreated and, at worst, becomes further entrenched. 

It might be inconvenient to you to have a client who finds it difficult talking about painful things, but the answer is to give them time and build trust. The current, worrying trend of promising to resolve all trauma, regardless of severity, in one session isn’t just a joke, it’s a dangerous and irresponsible joke. 

If you’re in any doubt as to just how insidious this disingenuity has become, how about this: the other day I saw a practice advertising its services with the line Come and have therapy – it’s FUN!

There are great many things in this big wide world of ours that are undoubtedly fun, but whilst therapy doesn’t have to be unpleasant, it certainly isn’t one of them.

Here’s the thing. If you offer therapy-lite sessions, your results will also be lite. Plain and simple. It doesn’t work any other way.

I’ve lost track of the number of therapists boasting on online forums about resolving major trauma issues only to admit, when questioned further, that they had only just finished the first session. The poor client probably hadn’t even got back to their car before their therapist was jumping online to share the ‘good’ news.

The goal for any therapist shouldn’t be speed or the creation of great marketing material, it should be thoroughness. To know the job has been done properly and with the client’s best interests at heart. It should be about a process that’s owned not by the hypnotherapist but by the client. That’s not the stuff of one-session fixes.

I’m bored by hypnotherapists who make it their business to pour scorn on talking therapy and make out their speed-dating equivalent is the only way forward. I’m bored by hypnotherapists who have done a 2-week course and think they’ve earned the right to trash-talk psychotherapy and other really solid therapies when all they really seem to be qualified in is supreme ignorance.

Everywhere I look it’s about speed and an aversion to exploring the past. These people don’t seem to recognise that the subconscious has no concept of time.

Quick hypnosis has its place, but no client I’ve had in 15 years has been concerned about how quickly they are hypnotised. Yet now it’s become a unique and questionable selling point for therapists and some course providers.

Guess what? Regression really works. Inner child work really works. They’re game-changers in a game a lot of the players don’t seem to have the right equipment to play.

Is regression therapy everything?  No, absolutely not – just as the Tower King MacBurger isn’t the only burger. But being prepared to spend the time needed to choose the right therapy will always be the difference between success and failure.

Healing is messy and uncomfortable, which means therapy is messy and uncomfortable and recovery from trauma and addiction is definitely messy and uncomfortable – until it isn’t. Then comes relief and true freedom.

But if you’re uncomfortable dealing with a client’s emotions or hearing about traumatic events, or you get freaked out when a client breaks down and grieves, or you don’t have the time to provide the right care then the chances are that some day, somewhere, someone is going to choke on the Tower King MacBurger you just served them.

The One Thing You Need To Do To Improve Your Life Instantly

Boxing Gloves

Give a man a fish and he’ll feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself forever. Or so the saying goes. It’s probably true, but who really knows? Fish can be damned smart. Particularly the ones that have been caught before.

Here’s a saying which I know is absolutely true:

Give someone five minutes with nothing to do but think and they’ll find a way to beat themselves up about something, no matter how small or trivial.

It’s a sentence or thought that starts with the words If only I hadn’t

… said that, done the other, been mean about Rachel’s new hairstyle, bought that dress, maxed out my credit card, asked out the guy/girl in the Costa queue on an irrational impulse, inhaled an entire packet of Hobnobs in a single sitting, been quite so unkind to my mother, jumped to that conclusion about Dawn Smith when we were ten, poked the cat with a stick, got back with her / him for the 30th time, thought bad things about that woman before I knew she had cancer, turned down that job promotion, frittered away my teens … the list is endlessly long.

More than that, it’s unfailingly and ineffably pointless and if I could only follow one spiritual or self-care practice for the rest of my life it would be to never beat myself up about things ever again. Because apart from being a long and pointless process, it’s also a process that is inarguably toxic.

Living in perpetual self-flagellation is like driving through life with the handbrake on.   

But regrets are good, right? It shows I’m human, for God’s sake! That I have empathy and sympathy and humility – all that good stuff that makes people realise I’m not the self-centred narcissist I think I am.

And guilt! Oh, God yes – lots and lots of that. After all, why should the good Catholics have the monopoly on guilt? There’s plenty for everyone – we just need to dwell on stuff awhile and soon enough it’ll engulf us and make us feel … what? Better? More worthy? More human? More deserving?

No. It does none of these things. Self-flagellation – the supreme art of giving yourself a hard time about stuff you can’t change – not only kills your relationship with yourself, it’s the best possible way there is to keep yourself stuck in the horrible decisions and emotions of the past. And that, in turn, keeps you locked into the very thing it is that you want to change.

Your relationship with yourself is the absolute basis of a good life. You’re stuck with being you, so if you’re going to learn to love the person you are, the minimum you need to do is to make peace with yourself.

And if you can’t do that for yourself – and there are a lot of people who can’t – then accept the help of others to help you find that path. It’s all very well me saying you just need to stop doing whatever it is that makes you berate yourself, but if it were that easy you’d probably have stopped already.   However it is important to set the intention no matter how you do it.  

In the end, sometimes we need a bit of a helping hand to see ourselves for who we really are rather than who we think we are. When you’re ready to start down that road, people like me are here to guide and help you.

A happy and fulfilled life comes from being your own best friend and celebrating the good things you represent. The odds are they’ll significantly outweigh the bad things – but we seem to be world masters in obsessing about the imperfections.

So, stop. Have your own back. Be there for yourself because when all’s said and done, you’re the only person out there you can reply on to be that guy or girl.

So why do we behave in such an obviously destructive way, replaying the car crashes of our emotional past with no apparent resolution? The reason is that guilt seeks punishment and the cycle goes something like this: 

1. Feel bad about yourself

2. Binge eat a packet of biscuits, feel terribly guilty about it, swear off them, then beat yourself up harshly.

3. Eat another packet of biscuits in a desperate attempt to feel better after giving yourself the beating

4. Decide the biscuits aren’t working and open a bottle of wine

5. Indulge in a 40-minute compare and despair binge on Instagram

6. Repeat whatever it was that made you feel bad in the first place.

7. Rinse and repeat.

The other thing is that this self-torture is more effective at chewing up your life-force, vitality and self-worth than a year on crystal meth. So, if that’s the vibe you’re going for, jog on. But if, like most of us, it’s absolutely not how you want to spend your life, then it’s imperative to make a deal with yourself to find a way to stop doing it.

As Jeff Brown so beautifully puts it, when dealing with your issues:  eat your stuff, or it will eat you.    

Stopping beating yourself up is the one thing that will improve the quality of your life instantly. As in this very second. And, quite unlike crystal meth, it’s free. The high of liking or even loving who you are is better, too.    

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t all look for self-improvement, success and growth – that’s an essential part of the human experience. And it’s not realistic or even desirable to stop wanting more from your life, because that’s also part of the human condition.

But beating yourself up for where you are just because you’re not yet in the place you want to be will keep you exactly where you are. Because the other truth about self-flagellation is that what we resist persists.

Telling ourselves we’re somehow wrong, deficient, ‘less than’ or defective because we aren’t where someone else has reached is the most powerful thing we can do to shame ourselves and keep us stuck exactly where we are.

Yes, we need to be true to our own values and standards and it’s right and healthy to want to be better at those things and to want not to repeat some of our mistakes – just as long as we’re not punishing ourselves when we fall short.

If you have experienced trauma in childhood, however large or small, the negative inner critic – aka The Superego – will be especially prevalent in your life. The role of the superego is to protect you, but the way it executes that task can feel especially malevolent at times. It’s the voice of fear and, as I often explain to my clients, fear is the strongest emotion we can experience.

The problem is it can often get translated as truth and I’ve found through my own work with clients that the white noise of persistent self-criticism diminishes once trauma and inner child work has been performed.

If our friends behaved like our superego, they wouldn’t be friends for long. Yet many of us tolerate this constant belittling of ourselves without complaint. Why would we treat ourselves in ways we would never tolerate from someone else? The answer is almost certainly that we’ve been listening to what a friend describes as the committee in the head for so long that we think what it has to say must be true.

But it’s possible to say not today thanks and take a different path that starves the superego of its power over us. If you cannot do that consciously, then do the therapy work to negotiate with it and it will set you free in a way you could never imagine.   

When you point blank refuse to beat yourself up really wonderful things start to happen. You naturally set better boundaries; you allow yourself to do more things and you get more done; you feel bolder and freer and you care much, much less about what others might be thinking of you. 

More than that, it also ‘unsticks’ you, so whatever you are stuck in – bad job, bad relationship, weight you can’t lose, habits you can’t shake – you can begin to wriggle free from.

Living a life that’s the stuff of a Kafkaesque doom narrative is no fun, but liberating yourself by not beating yourself up allows you to live in reality much more comfortably and means you are more grounded and less likely to go off on those oftentime disastrous flights of fantasy.    

There are a trillion goals we can have and so many things we can look at in ourselves and want to improve, but the reality is that you only need one goal to transform your life in the most radical and remarkable way possible: to be really, really comfortable in your own skin.   

Being the person who is really, truly, wonderfully okay with all of who they are is hands down the most magnetic and attractive quality in the world.

Let me put it a different way. If beating yourself up is like driving through life with the handbrake on, choosing to like who you are is the sheer joy of releasing it and putting your foot down. And after everything that’s gone before, isn’t it about time you floored your life?

Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.