How do you speak to yourself? What do you say? What does it sound like? Is it kind, supportive and encouraging or is it harsh, demanding and critical?
So many of us have an internal dialogue, a part of us telling us what we should have done or should do - often we believe if we listen to it we will improve and make changes.
Yet the reverse is often the case; we feel disheartened, flattened and often carry a shame around with us that we’re not enough as we are. The result? We feel lost, empty, useless and unable to make the grade that we feel we should achieve.
There are many reasons why an internal critical voice develops. Therapy can help to unpick the history and the pattern of thoughts, behaviour and the often underestimated emotional impact an internal critic can have. You may recognise some of the words and even the tone but we can deny the emotional impact in order to protect ourselves or we believe we deserve the pain and hurt it causes. With the support of a collaborative and supportive therapeutic relationship to help us delve a little deeper into the emotions we can build a different relationship with our internal critic.
As humans we have a tendency to see the worst, fear the danger and often we catastrophise, going to the worst scenario or outcome.
Humans have evolved and developed through coping with threat and danger—survival of the fittest. We have a complex yet, very simple threat system that comes into play when we are in danger and in part that is where our internal critical voice begins. It believes it’s keeping us on our toes - looking for the danger we might find if we don’t try harder, don’t work more or if we allow ourselves to feel good about something.
Once we understand this sense of danger and our response we can begin to look at ways in which we can support ourselves, changing our internal dialogue into something more supportive and encouraging.
Humans have evolved into more sophisticated beings and along with that we have developed cognitive skills, we have an ability to plan, to make choices and decisions. When the internal critic takes over we lose this part of us and we can become very stuck in a cycle of internal conflict and self-loathing.
Beginning with developing self-awareness we can build a more supportive relationship with ourselves. A supportive relationship with a therapist can be invaluable you as you look to understand your inner critic, to become more aware of the emotional hold an internal critic can have and begin to develop more self compassion and to trust yourself.
It is important that when we listen that we choose to do so with our full attention. Only then can we begin to appreciate and understand the experiences of others.
Listening is so important to our human connection and helps to build meaningful relationships. However, it’s actually really hard to listen well and effectively. It’s not necessarily something we’re taught at school in our family and so often we may not even understand its value until we experience it ourselves.
So often when we are with others we are waiting to speak rather than to hear what the other is feeling or experiencing. We get caught up in what we think we hear, rather than what might be the real meaning in the person’s words, tone or expression. The result is that the opportunity for connection is lost. Either that or we may just be preoccupied with our own thoughts or worries…
Think of a time when something has bothered you and you’ve reached out to speak to someone only to feel that they haven’t paid attention? Maybe there’s a relationship in your life in which hearing the other has become routine rather than intentional. Perhaps you feel like they don’t understand you? We can all probably think of a time when we haven’t felt heard. If this happens a lot we can start to feel isolated, question ourselves or our relationships.
Listening is a part of human connection and every relationship or interaction is an opportunity to connect or not.
When I sit with someone in therapy my aim is always to understand and make sense of what they say. It’s about listening and reaching out to be present with their thoughts, feelings and emotions, Hearing them, as they are in that moment.
It’s a different way of relating that is both freeing and empowering. It aids self -awareness and insight. When we learn the value of listening (from being listened to), we can learn how to listen to ourselves more and over time our relationships can improve with deeper connections.
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a psychologist and one of the most influential in developing the Person Centered approach to counselling and therapy.
Here’s what Rogers has to say about the power of listening (courtesy of Psychology Quotes).
“Never apologize for showing feelings. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli
Often people are more comfortable expressing their thoughts...
‘I think’ or ‘I believe’
They may not feel as comfortable expressing their emotions.
Emotions are complex, made up of physical feelings or sensations.
For example, when we are angry we might experience tightness in our chest, or heat in our bodies. We may shout or argue, we may withdraw and try to suppress the anger we feel inside.
Anger is often considered a bad or negative emotion. We might try to hide it, feel ashamed or guilty. At the other extreme we can become taken over by it and not be able to control or moderate it.
What if we taught ourselves a new response? Can we actually learn to listen to our bodies? Can we learn how to stay with the feeling, more about our-self, our situation and what it really means?
Anger is most commonly fuelled by other feelings, such as fear or hurt. When we control our anger to the extent that we don’t engage with what we feel internally we lose sight of what’s really at the core and what’s really hurting.
When we feel sad or depressed we can feel heavy in our body, emptiness inside, yet to articulate this can be very difficult.
We may have been brought up not to express emotions, to bury them. They can then become difficult to tolerate and as a result we can feel trapped. Sometimes we push it away to prevent others from seeing how we really feel.
We have to learn to be comfortable with our feelings, realising that there is in fact no good or bad feeling. It is only what we choose to do with each feeling that can help us to have a better understanding of our needs and our relationships.
Our emotions can be positive in our lives, a force for change and action. They inspire us to make choices, to realign and focus our ambitions.
If we don’t know how to work with our emotions we can experience confusion and uncertainty about what to do and what steps to take.
If we can learn how to turn inwards towards our emotions - the intensity can and does lessen. We can understand what’s hurting, what needs resolved and what our needs may be. We give ourselves the opportunity to make choices and take actions with intent rather than react without awareness.
From time to time we get stuck in a an emotion which can then have a detrimental impact on our current situation or relationships; if we haven’t had the chance to work through or process this properly it can linger and cause issues in the present
When we have a healthy relationship with our emotions we can carry better relationships, make better choices and live our lives in a way which allows us to accept, acknowledge and feel.
Emotion Focussed Therapy can really help us to understand our emotions so as they no longer overwhelm, allowing us to manage our world more confidently and benefit our relationships.
We’ve certainly not been here before. Everything that we thought we knew, that we thought was a given, has been turned on its head. This is unfamiliar territory.
So that’s the context.
At present we are all relearning how to live in a very unfamiliar and uncertain world, one which has become smaller. Despite knowing that everyone is going through the same we can also equally feel as independently lost and alone. It’s actually really important to notice how we feel, rather than fighting it we should seek to find a way to express it. An acknowledged feeling is far less scary than the one that creeps up on us, sabotages us and takes over.
Think about a pressure cooker as it whistles away… It builds steam, using its power until it needs a release. If we ignore our feelings we too run the risk of them boiling over at the wrong time.
How might YOU be feeling ?
We are in the midst of the unknown.
COVID-19 is making its presence felt. Scientists and experts are working hard to establish best practices for treatment whilst working on the development of a suitable vaccination. Meanwhile, we have to play our part, stay put and help mitigate its impact.
The unknown can cause us to worry and threat. We worry for ourselves, our loved ones, our physical and mental health, our work and our finances.
In order to manage in uncertain times we need to recognise that worry is part of human nature. We all worry, we all share fears. Fear can show up in many ways - some might withdraw, some might become more needy, some may be emotional. When we find ourselves feeling this way we often seek reassurance, yet we seldom think of what resources we have deep within which can help us cope.
When we become anxious or fearful our breath can become faster and shallower. Our bodies recognise this agitation, we react both physically and mentally as we struggle to shake the feeling and our racing thoughts.
Slowing our breath down, practising breathing from the diaphragm can really help our nervous system to decompress and relax.
Take a moment to notice your own breath and observe the pattern. Is it shallow? Fast paced?
Our breath is a great indicator of how our nervous system is responding to a given situation. However, the good news is that there are a number of simple techniques which we can learn which will help to slow and deepen our breath.
Meanwhile, perhaps it’s worth considering speaking to someone about the fear you feel. It may be hard to acknowledge, especially if your role is to support others or represent strength at home. However, an emotion named holds less power than one we bury.
Part of you may be fearful right now but perhaps the simple act of self acknowledgement can offer mental space and distance, even if only for a short time.
Humans get it wrong sometimes. When we live we take risks that we will sometimes make a mistake, hurt someone we love, do something wrong, or simply mess up.
When that mistake, that error in behaviour or hurt in words turns inwards and challenges our sense of who we are or how we see ourselves we can feel shame. A degree of shame allows us to make amends, to seek forgiveness, to reconcile, but when we have no recourse to do that or its become such a deep and familiar part of who we are we start out on a path of self destruct, often masking the real vulnerability in a range of damaging behaviours, such as isolation, addiction, self harm and depression.
It can consume us so that we lose sight of action, of how to turn it around, how to re evaluate who we are.
Shame is a complex state to be in, made up of so many layers of emotions and self-recriminations. It can be paralysing in the moment and longer term can lead to insecurity, isolation, feeling of being different—that ‘if you only knew what I'd done you wouldn’t want to be with me’’ dialogue that goes on in our heads.
We can experience shame in different ways.
When our own sense of who we are is under threat by ourselves—when we are hard on ourselves, don’t let ourselves off the hook, replay everything bad about ourselves.
When we believe others to be looking at us, scrutinising us, judging us, and not understanding our behaviour or us.
And when we experience shame on behalf of others—perhaps a family member who struggles with addiction, or has a long-term illness that others might not take the time to understand, or culturally on behalf of our community or society.
Owning up to and acknowledging our sense of shame can be hard—the very thing we want to hide also has to become public, it takes risk and bravery to put it out there, to ‘own up’ to what we see as our ‘bad self’. Whether its something we have to start to accept about our self, or how we feel about another it takes courage to speak it.
It comes with that horrible feeling of not being good enough, not being the same as, not deserving of care, love or attention, and is often a precursor to a host of other emotional and physical issues as we attempt to mask, manage or fight what we feel.
Beginning to open up, to allow someone in is the step towards understanding our shame and when we begin to understand we allow space for healing.
We all experience change in our lives, whether its something we choose or something that happens to us. When we find it difficult to adapt or understand or accept the change we can often find ourselves stuck, trying to resist or control it.
That can lead to physical and emotional pain as our bodies and our minds fight the feelings of being under threat or of feeling that our life and everything we thought it would be is changing or even spiralling out of control. We can become destabilised and it feels like the ground and our foundations are shifting.
There are times in our life that bring natural changes, such as when we leave school, start a job, or leave college, or move out of a family home, a bereavement, when we move house, when we meet a new partner or when we end a relationship. Even what society normally sees as good things like a holiday can bring change that for some can create stress and uncertainty. If you are someone who likes or needs control or structure in your life any of these changes, however inevitable or part of our normal life journey, can cause undue stress or apprehension.
Learning to cope with change and how to trust and accept the process is a bit like sailing on a stormy sea—the waves come at us and we can flounder and rock for a bit until we feel steady and can continue to float.
How quickly we can do this depends on so many things— what does this change mean to us, how much choice do we feel we have over it, what skills have we learnt in our life to cope, how well do we look after ourselves as we learn to re- negotiate our life? And what will I be like when I get to the other side?
Emotional change often comes from our acceptance whether it’s of ourselves or whatever is going on for us or processing what has happened to us in the past.
It might be about letting go of something we hoped for, of letting a relationship go or letting go of emotional pain we carry because we’ve never allowed ourselves to talk about it or understand it.
Whatever the change we are going through it requires something of us— whether that’s a leap into the unknown, a different way of dealing with things or a practical decision. We can only change our responses and how we cope when we face it head on and understand what it means to us.
When we bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away then we may just be making it harder on ourselves; sometimes we just have to go with it in order to make sense of it.
Here’s a little inspiration from the Dalai Lama!
1.At times of high stress our pupils dilate. Why? To take in more information around our surroundings. They are sussing out whether we will need to fight or flight. An American psychologist Daniel Kahenman discovered our pupils dilate depending on how difficult the task is.
2.Stress is difficult to measure and one person stressors might not stress someone else but work related stress accounted for 43% of days off work in 2014-2015. (Source: Work related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2015, HSE)
3.Men can respond to stress with different behaviours to women. Men are more likely to get angry, drink more or take drugs to cope with stress. Women are more likely to be emotional but will also talk or share it with someone.
4.The word stress comes form the Latin word ‘Stringere’ which means to tighten. Makes sense when you think about what our bodies do when we are stressed—we get more knotted, more wound up, get physical pains and aches in our necks or backs and we can become more difficult to engage with.
5.When we are under stress its harder to fight off a cold as it can affect our immune system as we are continuously activating our stress response which can leave us depleted elsewhere.
And now 5 things you might not have thought of that you can do to help yourself:
1.Laughing lowers stress hormones and also helps improve our immune system—double whammy! Find something funny to laugh at today whether it’s on You Tube or a funny film!
2.Spend time with a pet—there is evidence that time with a pet helps lower blood pressure, raise our feel good hormones and keep us fitter at the same time!
3.Yoga can help balance our body and mind and connect with our breathing so apart from the actual time we take for our self when we practice yoga our levels of cortisol can reduce.
4.Sing! Music and singing help us feel both elated and relaxed and if we sing in a group we also feel connected and have a sense of community that is also great for stress. Researchers across the globe including Japan, USA and Stockholm have found singing improves our wellbeing on a number of levels.
5.Drink Green tea— it's loaded with antioxidants and theanine, which is an amino acid that helps calm the nervous system. Try it instead of caffeine and see how your body feels!