Intimacy: Thank You For Sharing

Intimacy Coach

One thing we Brits have learned over the years is that it really doesn’t do to be airing our personal laundry in public. No matter what’s going on behind closed doors, we present an unflustered veneer to the outside world and plant a sign in the garden that reads: Nothing To See Here.

In relationships this is doubly true. An Englishman’s home is his castle, dammit, and regardless of the problems that might lie behind its portcullis, the façade is still an unmoving wall of brick and mortar through which no stranger should be allowed to penetrate.

Even when everything else is flaccid and unresponsive, a British chap – or chappess – must still be able to raise a stiffened lip in the adversity of popular perceptions about what it is and isn’t acceptable to share about one’s private life.

If that’s all true (and, for the most part convention, taboos and exceptions prove it still largely is) what must we buttoned-up Brits make of those free-thinking Americans and their outrageously liberal ways?

Only last week, Gwyneth Paltrow openly volunteered the fact she has an intimacy coach. You could almost hear the gasps of shock in the well-appointed chocolate boxes of the Home Counties as their occupants choked over a copy of the Daily Mail.

To add insult to injury, a furtive glance at the website of said coach – Michaela Boehm (go on, Google her – I know you’re dying to) – reveals that she’s also giving lessons in love to the ever-cool Will Smith.

(And before you get the wrong idea, I think we can safely assume this is the kind of coaching that’s done from the stands rather than on the field of play.)

Then, in a move that is liable to blow the minds of some Middle Englanders, Mr Smith and his wife Jada have only gone and shared all of their trials and tribulations on social media.

And you know what I say? I say hallelujah. I say well done Gwyneth, Will, Jada and anyone else who is brave enough to open up publicly and say, I’m having problems connecting with another human being and I’m getting some help to find a way through it.

Gwyneth and Will are well qualified to lead the charge on breaking the intimacy taboo.

Both have lived through broken marriages. Both have since remarried. Both have careers that, presumably, are the equivalent of Kryptonite in a relationship – regular and prolonged absences usually make the heart grow colder rather than fonder. Both are, outwardly, at least, self-assured, happy, seemingly content individuals without an obvious care in the world.

Both seem like the last people who could possibly need the services of an intimacy coach.

But that’s the point. Intimacy is a two-way street and it works only when both people in a relationship sign up to it. Sometimes, when you’re removed from intimacy for a period of time it’s hard to re-learn the dance when you’re thrown back together.

Perhaps the willingness of these actors to open up their personal lives so openly is an intuitive and natural response to a problem. These are people who count their fans as a family of sorts, and social media is increasingly becoming the confessional of choice for the celebrity set when it comes to emotional and mental health.

And, let’s face it, Americans famously love their therapy – so a predisposition to sharing a very personal struggle isn’t as alien over the pond as it still is here.

But Lord knows we could do with a bit of that on our small island where the concept of keeping it real is still seen as bewilderingly inappropriate.

As a race, we don’t often get to have this type of access to such openness from a couple who are willing to share so openly about their difficulties and how they get through it, but we need these positive role models who are prepared to talk publicly about relationships.

They are far and few between and while we look on open-mouthed at the brazenness of it all, the wreckage of failed relationships that crashed for want of a conversation gets strewn across life’s highway.

Here’s the problem with that stiff upper lip: it’s formed in schools where, as children, we aren’t taught to have successful relationships.

It’s formed from in an upbringing where the very notion that parents might share their problems with or in front of the children is positively scowled upon.

It’s formed in formative years that are geared to hiding any sense of inadequacy or dissatisfaction in life because, well, there are children starving in Africa and we need to be a bit more bloody grateful for our lives, thank you very much.

The art of communication, the art of intimacy. They’re two sides of the same coin and here in Britain we’re often just bloody rubbish at both things. And we mask our shortcomings by pretending that what’s abnormal is normal.

Being unhappy is exhausting, but we struggle on because that’s what society has always shown us we should do. I think it’s time we stopped struggling and started asking for the kind of help that Will and Gwyneth are already getting.

Because maybe – just maybe – they’re onto something by getting some support from a professional when it comes to intimacy.

I recently read in a couple’s forum that we are not meant to do this alone. That we can become isolated in our culture and that it’s vital to get outside input and guidance that supports couples who want to stay together but just haven’t got the skills to navigate the conflict or distance that’s between them. 

Hollywood is 5,437 miles from London. But Will Smith and Gwyneth Paltrow are light years ahead of us when it comes to emotional intelligence.

We Need To Talk About Medication

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I’m a Hypnotherapist, which means I’m a big believer in recovering as naturally as possible from the knocks we take to our mental health as we go through life & building inner resilience & resources.    

I try to help people to do that by looking with love and compassion at what’s really going on under the bonnet of your subconscious & supporting people to make people better life choices. We’ve got a pretty good track record there – my Associates and I have some fantastic successes when it comes to helping people recover from bloody horrific childhoods and extremely difficult life circumstances.

But even though I believe passionately in what we achieve here at Zoe Clews & Associates, I’m also not foolish or dumb or arrogant enough to believe that what we do is the answer for absolutely everyone, despite what the one-session-fix merchants would like you to think.

Do you want to know the truth? Sometimes what we do isn’t enough. Sometimes life has given someone such a pasting that they need the kind of help that we’re just not qualified to give.

So, believe me when I say there is nothing wrong, per se, with taking medication to help treat relentless anxiety, poleaxing depression or chronic and obsessive negative thought processes.

I know that’s not a popular opinion in some quarters, but I’ve lost count of the number of people who come through my door at their wits end because they’ve refused medication on the basis of judgemental point of view held by a complete idiot.

And yes, the psychiatry-denying scientologists at the back there, I’m definitely including you in this.

Pill-shaming is a big deal. So much so that this BBC video by Laura Foster prompted leading psychiatrist Dr James Davies to come out and add more context to the issue.

Pressurising someone – one way or the other – when it comes to medicating for a  mental health problem is a dangerous practice, especially when, as is so often the case, it’s done from a position of total ignorance.

And you know who else isn’t qualified to decide or judge whether someone should or shouldn’t be taking medication to deal with a mental health issue? Me, and other hypnotherapists and counsellors like me.

I mean, apologies for paging Captain Obvious here, but the process of diagnosis and prescription when it comes to mental health is a privilege you only earn through having a bonafide medical degree.

Even so, that doesn’t stop ill-informed, though perhaps well-meaning, people trying to persuade someone they don’t need medication to help them. That taking pills somehow makes them weak-spirited or puts them on the road to some form of helpless addiction.

Let’s be straight here: for some people with certain mental health conditions – especially those around serious conditions like extreme depression and anxiety or psychosis – medication can and often is about the only thing that starts or keeps them on a path to recovery.

The only choice in these cases is not whether the prescription is justified, but whether the individual wants to take the advice and medication their doctor has recommended.

Beyond the patient and the man or woman with a medical degree and specialist experience in treating mental illness, no one else’s opinion on whether or not someone else should be taking medication to help their recover really matters at all.

It’s important to respect people’s personal choices and to remember there’s a very real difference between being prescribed proper medication by a doctor and self-medicating with booze or the myriad of other monkeys that will happily take up permanent residency on  your back.

Properly prescribed medication as part of a treatment that is supervised by a responsible pyschiatrst or doctor should not leave anyone trapped in addiction’s snake pit.    And I want to be crystal clear here that I am only too aware of the horrors of benzo addiction & the slippery slope of sleeping pill dependency (Ambien tweeting / driving / sleep-eating anyone?)  these particular type of medications are meant to be used short-term.    

There are plenty of people who apply pressure on a friend or family member to reject taking medication and a lot of the time, that comes from a genuine – though misguided – need to protect that individual from dependency.

In a lot of cases, though, it’s just macho bullshit that comes from the same stable as someone who has made the personal & brave choice to face their alcoholism through 12 step recovery getting told:   you don’t need to go to AA, you just need to learn some self-discipline.     (DUH) 

And people who don’t deal with third party pill shaming often face it from their inner critic. This type of shaming can stem from a shaming episode in childhood and is often linked to unresolved post-traumatic stress or complex post-traumatic stress disorder.  Which gives us even more reason to not shame the individual suffering greatly and taking medication, because more often than not they are already giving themselves a really hard time.   

Every individual journey is different and for some people the virulent inner critic needs to be quietened through medication before therapy can have any sort of positive impact.

When someone has suffered grievous injury to their psyche the inner critic is especially violent, and sometimes medication is required at the beginning to quieten the inner critic enough to be able to function and keep going through therapy. 

As a society we’ve been raised on the mistaken belief that all we really need to get through any given problem – whether it’s a late-running morning train or a sky full of German bombers trying to obliterate London in 1941 – is a suitably stiffened upper lip and a jolly good cup of tea.

Just as we’ll happily wait until a leg is on the verge of falling off before we’ll bother the nice doctor, so we’ve been programmed to believe that using medication to solve a problem makes us somehow less resilient or capable.

It’s all nonsense. some people’s recovery might just require a kind, compassionate therapist who can ‘reparent’ the client – one of the most important factors in therapy when a client has been very traumatised.

Another person may need 12 step recovery plus medication 

For someone else, exercise and CBD oil plus therapy might be the answer (someone get the smelling salts for the scientologists) 

Then there’s the approach that uses natural and nutritonal supplements and meditation plus CBT 

Or perhaps someone needs medication, the care of a psychiatrist and then hypnotherapy to resolve old wounds.

What anyone who suffers with a mental health condition needs from you, above anything else, is your support rather than your judgement.

Recovery isn’t an off-the-peg deal – many survivors of complex PTSD and developmental trauma, or those under chronic stress or with a chronically stressful lifestyle (which is what I believe is behind nearly almost all mental health issues) will need to try a few approaches, including lifestyle changes, before they find the one that works.

Some degree of medication may very well be necessary – especially  to get through a really dark period whilst they do the necessary therapy work and implement the lifestyle changes that recovery requires.

That’s not to say medication alone is the answer, either.   And I’m all too aware from working with clients that medication can cause it’s own issues too.   I also believe that therapy work absolutely has to happen to resolve the root of the problem, all medication really does is give people a mask to wear and the  ability to function, but let’s not underestimate that often lifesaving intervention.

And used in line with therapy, it can be the rope ladder that helps people emerge from a pit of despair.

The reason we’re prone to judgement isn’t hard to understand. We’re now the first generation that’s really getting to grips with trauma and mental health and working to clear trauma – and we’re not just dealing with our own mental health, but that of the generation that went before us as we become their carers.

People need the permission, freedom and space to be able to talk about their mental health and to feel they have enough ownership over their recovery to be able to make the choices that are right for them without fear of being outed for decisions that don’t necessarily fit someone else’s world view.

applaud anyone who goes down the route of natural recovery, but sometimes it isn’t enough for those who are in crisis, and in that situation, and as long as they’re not harming themselves or others, it’s vital that we don’t shame anyone for doing what they need to do to ‘get through’.

It’s this differentiation between need and choice that we need to get in perspective.    

If we’re to deal with growing mental health crisis, then we need to have a balanced approach to it. It’s a vast and complex issue and we’ll make headway by modernising our thinking around it – not by retreating into the stereotypes and tropes of previous generations.

And that means not shaming the choices people make in order to get better.

Masturdating. It’s A Thing. It Just Might Not Be As Satisfying As You Imagine.

Zoe Clews & Associates Blog

There’s an awful lot of stuff that drifts into my inbox every day. Stuff that I probably signed up for ages ago – or, more likely – didn’t say no to when I should have done, most of which simply gets swiped to the bin.

But the other day, an email arrived with a subject line that caught my eye: 5 women on their “masturdating” rituals.

It came from Refinery29 UK, one of the few content platforms I do try to make time for if I can, by virtue of its ability to serve up thought-provoking articles that cause me to stop and reassess my world view.

And, let’s be honest, things don’t get much more thought-provoking than the notion of masturdating.

If you haven’t come across the term before (apologies for the unintended pun), then masturdating is the process of taking yourself out on a date, and it seems this is now an honest-to-goodness thing that many women appear to be enjoying on a global basis.

In spite of its name – doubtless a clever play on words that happily doubles as a click-bait-writer’s wet dream – masturdating has nothing to do with its rhyming cousin (or perhaps it does, if the date with yourself goes better than you expected).

Instead, solo dating – let’s use that term from now on – is offered as the antidote to loneliness for what is thought to be up to a third of the UK’s single women. According to Refinery29, a recent poll of 2,000 women suggested 41% were happy to take themselves out for a little one on one quality time. This compares to around 37% of men who are happy to do the same.

According to the case studies in the article (there’s a link to it at the end of this piece if you want to read it for yourself) dates range from a quiet restaurant dinner with a book to a day out in the park, spa days and everything in between.

And whilst I was reading it, I began to think about how I felt about this apparently new trend for self-selecting isolation.

And this is where I got to.

On the whole, I’m a big fan of self-sufficiency. Resilience and comfort in one’s own skin and company are underrated qualities in my book.

Being happy enough to spend an evening or a day – or even several of them in a row – with no human interaction beyond marvelling at your own idiosyncrasies is inarguably one of life’s great pleasures.

No, independence is good. My issue with solo dating is when it has no longer become an activity of choice. And if you think about it, solo dating is a lonely solution to being lonely.

If you think for just a moment about why solo dating is a thing, the only conclusion it’s possible to draw is that it’s an apology for something that, deep down, we know is unnatural. Humans are social animals. Being alone isn’t part of evolution’s game plan.

But we live a culture that glorifies independence to an extreme. God forbid we should admit that as social human beings we might have needs.

So, while, on the surface, masturdating seems to have self-empowerment and self-love written all over it, there’s a danger that for those of us who’ve not been taught how to do relationships, it’s a convenient way of justifying emotional incompleteness.

In short, for some of us, it’s just easier to go it alone. And for those who’ve seen the recent article about single women being happier than married women, it’s easy to see why there’s a danger that we over-encourage women (and men) to celebrate their emotional and physical isolation.  

The important thing to come back to is that we are social beings … we heal our wounds within the relationships we have with others. On our own, we lick them and then pick at the scabs.

We mustn’t lose sight of our inherent core needs: to be seen, to be understood, and to connect with another human being in romantic intimate partnership. 

To admit we have needs takes courage and vulnerability – and it’s there that self-love and doing the inner work pays off.

When we know what we need and we have the communication skills to express it in an assertive way that is also kind, we have a chance to be happy and content in life and able to genuinely appreciate the time we have to ourselves. 

I believe we need a new movement that allows us to be utterly honest about our needs.

Where we let go of the shame to want to love and be loved.

Where it’s cool to have needs and own them.

And if you want to take yourself out on a date once in a while, then that’s cool, too.

The Mindful Menopause

The mindful menopause

Type ‘on average how long …’ into Google search and the four words that automatically completes the search inquiry are ‘… does the menopause last’.

The answer (from the NHS, just in case you were wondering which site comes top of Google’s results) is that menopausal symptoms last an average of four years from your last period.

Which is a staggeringly long time to be sweating through the night courtesy of an internal blast furnace , lurching from Dr Jekyll to Mrs Hyde in the blink of an unpredictable eye, struggling to sleep and piling on weight quicker than a baby Orca.

It’s enough to say that while there are a lucky few (and let’s be honest, they’re a don’t-know-just-how-lucky-they-are lucky few) whose bodies seem to effortlessly deal with what is pretty much the hormonal equivalent of a Hadron collider particle accelerator operating non-stop 24/7 for 1500+ days, the majority of the world’s female population find the menopause to be a very different experience.

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Is Romance The Victim Of Your Failure To Engage?

Red Heart

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy Our need for togetherness exist alongside our need for separation. Marriage is not the end of romance, it’s the beginning

Esther Perel

No-one who’s completely sane likes having a difficult conversation. There’s not much joy to be had in criticising the behaviour or commitment of someone else and a lot of us go out of our way to avoid those moments of confrontation.

Sometimes we can get away with that avoidance. Maybe, in the broad scheme of things, saying what you really think or feel serves no great long-term purpose, either because the issue is time-limited, or resolution will have no material effect on our lives.

But where there are problems between you and the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with, whether in marriage or otherwise, failing to be completely honest can have a really negative – or, if left unresolved, catastrophic – impact on the health of the relationship.

My work helps and encourages couples to stop avoiding the difficult conversations that keep a relationship healthy. Without them, unwanted resentment, anger, rage and blame slowly creeps into the relationship because neither person will say, I feel hurt when …  

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Do You Know The Value of ‘Brand You’?

Do You Know The Value Of Brand You?

Ask the owner of any successful business what their most valuable asset is and the smartest among them will give you a one-word answer: brand.

Brand is not a one single thing; it’s a collection of attributes – some physical, some material, some emotional – that together create the relationship that exists between a business and its customers and clients.

Any business that understands its market will invest in developing and defining its brand – and it will (or should) go to extraordinary lengths to protect it.

The reason is quite simple: a business’s brand represents the personality of that business, and personality is about values, ethos, ambition and loyalty.

If I asked you what brands you admire, there’s a good chance some familiar names would make the list.

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The Truth Behind The Triple Smackdown

The Truth Behind The Triple Smackdown

Here’s the truth about life. Sometimes it turns up wearing camouflage gear and a balaclava, armed to the teeth and hell-bent on hurting you.

Or at least, that’s what it feels like.

We all experience this at least once in our lives. And if it only happens once, then consider yourself fortunate, because it happens to most of us more than once.

This is the moment where everything seems to be going well and apart from the minor day-to-day issues everyone’s dealing with all the time, there’s not much to distract you from the rather pleasant job of enjoying life.

And then, suddenly, everything seems to go to hell in a hand cart in a very short time.

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Children’s Emotional Resilience

Young Business Girl On Stage Lifting Barbell

When you were learning how to ride a bike as a kid and you fell off and skinned a knee or an elbow, did you just brush yourself down, get back on and try again, knowing that eventually after some practice, you’d get the hang of it?

Or did you do what most of us did, and cry a bit and refuse to get back on the saddle until your mum or dad forced you to?

For most of us, learning to ride a bike was a painful and undignified affair that involved much wobbling, some falling off, lots of tears (some of pain, most of frustration) and a good deal of anxiety before we got to the elation of two-wheeled, confident independence.

In fact, for kids, most learning experiences are like that.

But many people seem to think that children develop resilience purely through the act of failing. That’s not the case. Children actually develop resilience by learning how to deal with failure successfully.

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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.

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

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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.”

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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.