Updated: Nov 16

Are your strategies for dealing with challenges and difficulties in life giving you the outcomes you want?




Challenging times can happen at any time to anyone. Difficult circumstances that were not in our plans, all of sudden make their way into our lives. More often than not, bad things seem to happen all at once like in the popular saying "It never rains but it pours"...


It is during these difficult times that we become "triggered" to respond in ways that are familiar to us, even when our responses do not serve us well.


Under stress, our coping mechanisms default to survival mode and our thoughts, emotions and resulting behaviour become a product of our past experiences.



When we were children we learnt to cope with stress by modelling the behaviour of the meaningful adults in our life. The learning process is always unconscious and as children, we do not have neither the life experience nor the critical capacity to make distinctions and to logically assess which behaviours we should model and which ones we shouldn't. We just absorb like sponges what we see and then re-enact it. If nothing interferes with this process (i.e. we do not learn different ways of behaving and coping with stressful situations, for example, at school, from our peers, or from a relevant adult such as a teacher or mentor), we develop a repertoire of coping strategies that are based on life-diminishing belief systems about ourselves, others and the world/life.


If we are lucky to grow up in a heathy and stable family environment, we eventually learn a range of coping strategies and as we grow up and live our own experiences we also become capable of accessing inner resources to make our own decisions based on trial and error, assessing, more or less accurately, what responses to life difficulties contribute to enhancing or diminishing our opportunities.


However, those of us who did not grow up in healthy and stable family environments often struggle to learn healthy and life-enhancing ways to cope with stress and when faced with life challenges, we tend to regress to patterns of behaviour that do not serve us well, unconsciously creating our own life traps.



These patterns of behaviour tend to have self-destructive elements in them. For example, if we grew up in an environment where the meaningful adult/s dealt with stress by resorting to violence, we are likely to use some form of violence as a way of coping with problems in general. Although we may not be physically violent towards other people, we may become passive or overtly aggressive towards others, particularly when under pressure. Or, we may exercise violence against ourselves, by self-neglecting, self-harming or by displaying self-destructive behaviours that expose us to violence from others, i.e. abusive partners, toxic friendships, exploitative bosses, etc.


As another example, if we grew up in an environment where the meaningful adult/s coped with life challenges by adopting addictive habits and behaviours, as adults, we may have learnt to cope with pressure and stress by consuming addictive substances or by displaying self-destructive, potentially addictive behaviours such as gambling, self-harming, over-exercising, over-working, emotional eating, etc. The danger with substances and self-destructive behaviours is that even though, under normal circumstances, they may happen occasionally, we may find them comforting during challenging times, eventually causing us to become trapped in a cycle of addiction from which we may find it almost impossible to escape by ourselves.


If you recognise that the strategies you are using to deal with stress and challenging life circumstances have the potential to lead you down the path of self-destruction, or, if after having had many similar experiences, you recognise that your coping strategies are not helping you to solve your problems, it is time to take a step back, and take a deeper look at what is really going on.


Where should you start? Here are some ideas:


1. Commit to being brutally honest with yourself: The first step in the process is to commit to being brutally honest with yourself. Although easier said than done, it is important to make a commitment to yourself that no matter how unpleasant the truth, you are going to face it and that you are going to stop making excuses as to why you do the things you do. What matters here is the intention that you create rather than your actual capacity to face the truth because the fact is that your ability to be honest with yourself is directly proportional to your degree of self-awareness. If you are a master at self-deception, it is unlikely you will be able to acknowledge certain things about yourself at the first attempt but you have to start somewhere, and making a commitment to yourself and creating an intention around it is the first step to change.


I have found through experience that putting your intention in writing helps to remind yourself of your commitment. An example could be:


"I deeply commit to try really hard to see the truth behind my behaviours when dealing with challenging circumstances. Although I know this may be difficult at times, I commit to making the effort to stop making excuses for behaviours that do not serve me well."


2. Become aware of your triggers: To tackle responses that do not serve you, you need to become aware of your triggers. You can keep an ABC diary. ABC stands for:


Activating event: what happened that caused you to feel or react in a certain way?

For example: "My colleague asked me if I had completed the report that she gave me two weeks ago"


Behaviour: Specifically, what did you do? How did you respond? Try to be as descriptive as possible. Behaviours also include your thoughts and your emotions.

For example: "I thought, who is she to ask me about the report and I felt really angry at her so I snapped that I had not had the time to do it"


Consequence: What happened as a result of your response? Here you keep a record of what happened as a result of your response.

For example: "She reacted badly and then stopped talking to me, so our relationship is now in a very bad place"


3. Think of alternatives: Once you determine what happened, then you can ask yourself: Is this the outcome I wanted? and then, what could I have done differently?. It is important that you elaborate on your thoughts and emotions when answering these questions (remember your commitment to be brutally honest with yourself). It is through taking the time to describe what really happened that you will begin to see a pattern emerging in your responses to certain events.

For example:

Is this the outcome I wanted?: No, I didn't want us to be in bad terms because I need her to do some work with me as part of being in a team and I also don't want to be in bad terms with people at work because it makes my job unbearable.

What could I have done differently?: I could have apologised and explained that I have a lot of work to complete and that I am feeling quite stressed at the moment with all the restructuring going on and that I will make the time to complete it within the next 5 days.

I now realise that I become very snappy when I feel overwhelmed and react badly to people's requests.


4. Assess the costs: When you begin to see that there is a pattern in the way you tend to respond to certain events, ask yourself: what is this way of responding costing me?

This is a key question because it is not until you clearly see and acknowledge that the response is not serving you, that you will be fully committed to change it.

For example: My relationships at work are very strained and I noticed people do not chat with me like they used to. This makes me feel like an outsider and I feel unsupported and alone, which in turn makes me feel on edge.


5. Commit yourself to changing one specific behaviour in relation to the pattern: it is easier to begin with something simple. For example: when someone comes to ask me for something at work, I commit to speaking to them with respect and in a professional manner regardless of the reason for the request.


6. Be patient and exercise self-compassion: change does not happen in one day. There are ups and downs. Sometimes, you will feel you did well and other times, you will feel that you failed. That's totally fine. Remind yourself that you are on the process of becoming and that it is on-going for a lifetime. In the process of becoming there is no place for perfection. Perfection is an illusion and you are aiming for that which is real and true in your life.


7. Open yourself up to receiving support: to be open means that you aim to become receptive to receiving help from different sources without having preconceived expectations of what kind of help you are going to receive and who is going to give it to you. This does not mean that you will sit and wait for something to happen. It means you will take responsibility for your life and do what you need to do but you will also be open to receiving help from different sources.


These sources can be: spiritual, people, groups, organisations, trained professionals (such as counsellors, coaches, mentors, teachers, spiritual support, etc.), books, online videos, inspirational material, educational resources, etc. Sometimes, all we need to do is to ask for help to something bigger than ourselves and become open to receiving the help. Be open to receiving help from unexpected sources. Sometimes, we also need to openly communicate to others that we need help without demanding or manipulating. If asking for help is outside your comfort zone, then, practise the ABC and the questions above and be curious about what comes up as to the reason why it is difficult for you to ask for help.




#mentalhealth #Covid19 #Covidanxiety #anxiety #depression #GAD #CBT #Counselling #Hypnotherapy #Psychotherapy #LifeCoaching #selfdevelopment










Updated: Nov 3

If you’ve ever heard someone say to you that in order to achieve something, to be successful, to do a good job, to make the right decision, etc. you have to "know yourself", you may have wondered: “Ok, well...but…how do I know myself?”



In this article, I will explore:




What is self-awareness?


Why is self-awareness important?


Tools to become more self-aware


Can life coaching or therapy help you to become more self-aware?



What is self-awareness?


To know oneself is a concept that is closely related to that of becoming more self-aware.


We can define self-awareness as the ability to:


  • understand our inner life with increasing levels of depth and complexity

  • have the capacity to grasp the meaning of what we are experiencing as it is happening to us (in the here and now)

  • be able to observe with a degree of detachment our mental processes from cause to effect

  • make sense of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours

  • have the ability to see the origin and consequences of our behaviours

  • understand our mood changes and become proficient in anticipating when these are likely to occur

  • grasp the meaning of the undercurrents of our emotional life by tracing back our emotions to their cause

  • be aware of our assumptions, biases and blind spots

  • be aware of our needs and desires

  • have consciously chosen the values by which we live our life

  • have clear boundaries in relationship with others

  • be aware of our weaknesses, strengths and soft spots and accept them as part of who we are.



Although the journey of becoming more self-aware is never ending, we can say that we have achieved a certain degree of competency when we increasingly experience inner peace (regardless of the external circumstances), higher levels of well-being and our relationships become more meaningful and fulfilling.


Why is self-awareness important?


Self-awareness goes hand in hand with body-awareness. To be self-aware, we need to be grounded and fully present in our bodies.


When we are disconnected from our bodies, we are dissociated from our emotions. This is because emotions are a somatic experience: they live in the body. A person who is “all in the head” finds it hard to connect with their emotions. They are also generally disconnected from the way their bodies experience those emotions.


For example, if we fear a situation, our bodies will react before we are consciously aware. This is because thoughts outside our conscious awareness are triggering the alarm that there is some kind of danger to our survival. As a result, the amygdala gets activated and we become alert to any potential threats in our environment. Our attention focuses on anything that could be dangerous. We get ready to fight, fly or freeze.


When we are dissociated from our bodies, we tend to ignore our experience by dismissing it as silly, or we react on it without much thought, sometimes with dire consequences. If we go about life constantly being triggered by external events and unconscious drives, we will probably struggle to bring some sense of control and order to our lives.


Tools to become more self-aware


To become more self-aware, we can begin by noticing what is happening to us at the time when it is happening.


For example, if someone says something to you and you feel angry about it, instead of reacting to that feeling, you can:


  • Take a step back by literally doing it and as you do so, take a deep breath. When taking a deep breath, make sure you inhale through your nose and allow the air to go all the way down to your belly.

  • If you cannot take a physical step back because of injure or disability, you can imagine yourself doing it. As you do this, gently breathe in and out a few times.

  • If you feel safe to do so, explain to the other person that you need to take a break from the conversation.

  • Make a conscious effort to listen to the other person. You can acknowledge them by saying: I hear what you are saying. Right now, I cannot give you a response because I need to think about it.

  • Acknowledge that you are angry, hurt, sad, etc. and make a mental statement “I am feeling angry right now, I want to shout at this person”. Acknowledging how you are feeling by mentally stating it allows you to pay attention to your emotions. This may not alleviate their intensity, but it may help you to take some distance from what you are feeling.

  • Do validate your experience. If you are feeling angry, there is no point in denying it or trying to talk yourself out of it. Honour your experience by saying to yourself: “Right now I am feeling angry and that’s OK. I choose not to react to these emotions. I will reflect on this when my head is clear.”

  • Change your body state. This means that you need to do something different with your body in order to momentarily distract your mind from negative automatic thought loops. If you are sitting, stand up. If you are standing, walk around the room or go outside and breathe in some fresh air. You can also stretch and/or flex your upper body by gently bending it down as far as you can go without pushing it or hurting yourself. Make your way back up slowly as you gently breathe in and out.


There are many exercises that you can do to re-focus your attention and to change your awareness at a specific moment in time. By learning to re-focus your mind with the aim of getting some clarity, you will begin to notice that it is easier for you to refrain yourself from acting out your emotions in ways that you may regret at a later point.


Self –awareness goes hand in hand with self-development. To work on our growth and development means that we are looking to understand ourselves better in order to function more effectively in the world, to make life-enhancing decisions, to have meaningful and fulfilling relationships with others.


The more you get to know yourself, the more you understand that you are “a work in progress” and a never-ending spectrum of possibilities!


Depending on your age and the stage of lifespan development at which you are, you will have had the opportunity to develop certain aspects of your personality while others may still be hidden or unknown to you, and that’s perfectly OK.


The more experiences you have, the more you'll learn about yourself.


The more you learn about yourself, the more self-aware you become, and the more opportunities will come your way that will disclose ever more complex aspects of yourself.


We learn new things about ourselves when we move out of our comfort zone, when we experiment, when we take risks, when we dare to face the unknown. However, it is also important to remember that we also learn a lot about ourselves when we struggle, when we are in emotional distress, when we feel vulnerable, when we are down and feel hopeless, when we lose someone we love, when we reach out to others and ask for help.


Self-awareness is the first step to higher and higher levels of personal freedom. The more we are aware of our responses to external events and to the currents of our inner lives, the more choice we have. Our capacity for empathy expands as we become more in tune with the emotional lives of others. We understand that we are all struggling to make sense of a complex, challenging world and so we have the choice to be less judgemental.


When you are not aware of the currents of your inner world, you usually do a lot of projecting: you project negative aspects of your psyche onto an unwilling recipient. You “dump” onto others your own “stuff.” People become the recipients of your projections and you stop seeing the person in front of you. All you see is who you want them to be or who you believe them to be.


The contents of our psyche that we do not know about or that we fail to see get relegated to a corner and from there, project a shadow. According to Carl Jung’s original definition, shadow contents are ‘anything that lay in the unconscious part of one’s personality’ (Johnson, 1993, 61). Johnson writes that:


The shadow contents of the psyche
Unless we do conscious work on it, the shadow is almost always projected; that is, it is neatly laid on someone or something else so that we do not have to take responsibility for it.









We can project our shadow on another person, a group of people or an object. As it is usually the case with an actual shadow, it is a twisted version of reality. To be able to see people or things as they really are, we need to make an effort to identify these unconscious contents and expose them to the light of conscious awareness.


There are a number of tools and exercises that can help you to become more self-aware. You can create your own “self-awareness tool-box”.


However, bear in mind that not all tools in the box will work at all times. You can test which strategies are useful to you and which are not.


We will look at a series of exercises based on three models to increase self-awareness:



The Life Chart


The life chart consists of drawing a timeline of meaningful events in your life. The goal is to remember how you experienced those events and how you feel about them at present. This exercise can lead to all sorts of memories and insights about how you have changed over time. It can also be a great tool to measure achievements and failures objectively. It is a good way to “take stock” of your life when you are at a crossroads or when you need to make a very difficult decision with life changing implications. It is very helpful when you are feeling stuck as it can provide you with a completely new perspective.


You can see an example of the Life Chart by Adolf Meyer here.





Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is useful to become aware of your needs and to evaluate whether they are being met. If, for example, you identify a pattern playing out in a particular area of your life, you can use this model to assess whether the pattern is an unconscious attempt on your part to get certain needs met.


Very often we try to get our needs met by using the wrong strategy. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that our needs will not get met by repeating toxic dynamics in relationships. This can be a powerful way to assess whether it is time to do things differently.



The Johari Window


Another tool to gain self-awareness is The Johari Window. This model relies on your ability to be honest with yourself and to ask for other people’s feedback.


The Johari Window brings to your awareness your blind spots, that is, the things about yourself you cannot see (that are outside your conscious awareness) and it provides you with a more objective picture of yourself. It is a good method to enhance your self-knowledge by reducing the gap between who you think you are and how others see you. It may be quite challenging to ask for other people’s feedback but it may also be very rewarding. The best way to approach the Johari Window is by asking trusted members of the family and friends you consider to be safe, if they would mind helping you to complete an exercise for self-awareness.


The Johari Window is divided into four quadrants where you can identify the aspects of yourself that are:


  • Known to all

  • Unknown to others but not to ourselves

  • Unknown to others but known to ourselves

  • Unknown to others and to ourselves



The uncharted territory of the unconscious can be explored in the Unknown Area if we are willing to self-disclose to people who will give us honest feedback. This will present us with a great opportunity to gain new insights about ourselves.



Other tools to become more self-aware are:


  • Setting Goals

  • Writing on a journal

  • Keeping a record of dreams (also known as dream work).

  • Giving and receiving constructive feedback

  • Personality Tests

  • Working with a Life Coach, a Counsellor and/or Psychotherapist.


Always remind yourself that to engage in self-development work with the purpose of becoming more self-aware is an ongoing process and not a definite goal with a set deadline.

Self-development with the purpose of becoming more self-aware is a life-long journey and its ultimate goal is to unveil your true-self. Your true-self is who you truly are at the core underneath all the layers of your socially-conditioned self or persona. Only through methodical and conscious work can you aspire to know the treasures hidden in your soul.


Can life coaching or therapy help you to become more self-aware?





A definite yes.


There is only so much you can learn about yourself by practising introspection, reflection and self-development techniques. Because they are too close to you, family and friends will sometimes be wary of giving you an accurate picture of yourself for fear of upsetting you and straining the relationship.


Life coaches and therapists are trained to help. Each profession has a different approach to helping but it all comes down to one thing:


A good life coach/therapist will be non-judgemental and will listen to you with empathy and compassion.


They will also challenge you to think differently and if necessary, they may provide you with important and relevant information (also known as life skills or psycho-education), techniques and strategies.


Good life coaches and therapists have received appropriate psychological training to help people with a variety of problems in different areas of their lives.


They also work with many people and this gives them the extra advantage of seeing the same issues play out over and over again in the lives of many of their clients. As a result, they may be able to easily spot those things that are not within your awareness, they can help you to clear your thinking and can guide you through the process of making the choices that are right for you.


So now, next time someone tells you that “you need to know yourself”, you can tell them:


“Absolutely right, I am in the process of becoming more self-aware and I am a work in progress!”



References

Johnson, Robert (1993), Owning your own shadow. Understanding the dark side of the psyche. NY: Harper Collins



#selfawareness #selfknowledge #selfdevelopment #selflove #personaldevelopment #selfhelp #developmentalwork #counselling #psychotherapy #lifecoaching #counsellor #psychotherapist #lifecoach #JohariWindow #hierarchyofneeds #Maslow #lifechart #recapitulation #shadowcontent #psyche #lifespan #unconscious #conscious #awareness #mindfulness


Updated: Nov 3

Mental Health Awareness Week, 18-24 May.




In order to help people manage the anxiety provoked by the Corona Virus Crisis, many professionals have kindly published a number of really helpful resources online. Since the theme of the coming Mental Health Awareness Week is Kindness, and to facilitate sharing these amazing resources, I am posting a guide to Anxiety-Busting Resources available for free on the internet. Enjoy it!


Learn about anxiety


1. Learning about a condition is the first step to beat it. The NHS website offers a wealth of information about several mental health conditions. It is worthwhile having a closer look.


https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/anxiety/


2. The NHS also offers very comprehensive self-help guides so that you can read reliable information on your condition or problem.


https://web.ntw.nhs.uk/selfhelp/





3. The charity MIND also offers a very comprehensive guide to a wide number of Mental Health conditions. Here's the one for Anxiety.


https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/about-anxiety


4. The Reading Well organisation helps you manage your condition by offering you a guide to helpful literature; they also provide you with a link that allows you to connect to your local library to check if they have a specific book.


https://reading-well.org.uk/resources/mental-health


5. The charity Anxiety UK offers the possibility of becoming a member with a wealth of benefits, as well as access to a variety of low-cost therapies, including counselling, psychotherapy, CBT and hypnotherapy.


https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/



Learn to Relax


Learning to relax is very important in order to deactivate the overreaction of the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for the activation of the famous fight, flight or freeze response, which causes the anxiety-related symptoms.


Guided meditations, visualizations, hypnosis and mindfulness are all tools used to calm the stress response. It is important to practice these techniques regularly in order to teach the brain to respond differently by re-wiring those old and stubborn neuro-pathways.


6. The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis offers a selection of hypnotherapy recordings provided by members.


Mindfulness for Releasing Anxiety: https://www.bsch.org.uk/nhs/mindfulnessforreleasinganxiety.mp3


Relax & Sleep Well: https://www.bsch.org.uk/nhs/relaxsleepwell.mp3


Also, if you scroll down the page, you will find a CBH Corona Virus Anxiety Plan that guides you step by step through a process of reflection and psycho-education based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.


7. The free online magazine Happiful offers a special edition for Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety. Included in the article, there is the link to a fantastic Guided Meditation for Calm and Peace.


Get Professional Help


8. If you need professional help, you can contact me to arrange for Coaching and Hypnotherapy sessions. I offer a special package for Anxiety.


https://www.mariabarletta.co.uk/help-with-anxiety


9. Finally, here's some ideas about how to beat anxiety.




#anxiety #depression #coronavirus #Covid19 #isolation #lockdown #stress #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #psychologicalhelp #counselling #psychotherapy #hypnotherapy #hypnosis #hypnopsychotherapy #CBT #CBH #cognitivebehaviouralhypnosis #cognitivebehaviouraltherapy #coaching #lifecoaching #transformationalcoaching #transformation #transformative #mindfulness

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