Author : Michelle

  • AVOID OR PROGRESS? HARD CONVERSATIONS MADE EASY

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    So I assume everyone’s heard of the honeymoon period right? That period when you first get into a relationship and everything is amazing. You’re over the moon for your partner, you get butterflies in your stomach every time you see them, everything’s perfect and you just can’t seem to find anything to fault. That is, until you really get to know them. Then all your hopes and dreams seem go back to being just that, dreams.

    Let’s face it, no matter how similar you may be, no two people think the same, so disagreements are inevitable. But this doesn’t mean that all your dreams can’t still be a reality. We just have to be realistic. Intimate relationships are just the same as any other relationship in our lives; there will always be things you like and dislike about your friends and family and you may not always get along and that’s totally normal. We’re humans, we are all different and we can’t always agree!

    Unfortunately, a lot of people get to the end of the honeymoon period and bail when things get too hard. It might be because they’re just not that committed to the relationship or it could be because they freak out and feel threatened. Any time we feel threatened (e.g. “He/she doesn’t like me/care about me”) our fight or flight response is activated. So when conflict arises or it seems too hard to get to a resolution we have a tendency to flee the situation. This is normal, but it doesn’t have to be like this.

    Those of us who choose to hang in there rather than fleeing the relationship completely, may instead tend to avoid disagreements rather than working through our differences. Let’s face it confrontation is uncomfortable, especially at the beginning stages of a relationship so it seems easier to just sweep it under the rug. But in reality, this can in fact cause all sorts of problems later down the track.

    For example, say your partner always leaves their dirty clothes on the bathroom floor after their shower rather than putting them in wash basket. You find this annoying; it makes the bathroom messy and the wash basket is literally a metre away from the shower. It seems trivial so you decide not to say anything, until one day you get up in the middle of the night busting to go to the toilet so you burst into the bathroom without turning the light on and as you walk through you slip on your partner’s clothes and land face flat on the bathroom floor. At this point you have so much built up frustration that you decide to wake your partner up, yelling at him about how much of a slob he is and blaming him for the fall and subsequent bruising. In your explosion, now that your emotions have intensified, you might even bring up other unresolved issues like how your partner never washes the dishes or take the garbage out and what began as a minor issue has now escalated into a full-blown argument.

    So whether you avoid confrontation due to the awkwardness, worry about saying the wrong thing or fear coming across as aggressive or needy, being able to communicate your thoughts and feelings is always key to a healthy relationship. A lot of the time it’s just the fear or the unknown that scares us, “but what if he/she doesn’t take it the right way?”, “what if he/she thinks of me differently afterwards” and most commonly, “what if it turns into a full blown argument!”

    Having these hard conversations takes effort, and communicating effectively is a skill. There are actually a few common communication errors that many of us make that can lead to unnecessary arguments, bitterness and name calling. One common example is when we blame the other person for the way that wefeel. For example, rather than saying “you don’t even care about me, you barely ever fit in time for me” we could say, “I feel like you don’t care about me because I think that we’ve been spending a lot less time together lately”. This simple reframing of words can make a world of a difference!

    Being able to work through our ‘incompatibility’ (disagreements) really is the difference between a happy couple and an unhappy couple. Conflict should never be seen as a threat to the relationship, it should instead be seen as an opportunity, and a sign of growth in a relationship, where both of you can leave feeling even greater understanding and love for one other.

    Fortunately, there are a few simple steps to effective and mindful communication that can help you avoid these common errors, and make these difficult conversations a whole lot easier. If you want to learn more on the practical side of things, head down to our “How to have those hard conversations” workshop with our provisional psychologist Michelle on Monday 19th September.

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  • Mirror Mirror…

    After finding this super inspiring video online recently. We thought we’d address the issue of Body Image.
     

    The majority of us judge our bodies harshly every single day, especially women. What is with that? We would never say these things to others as it would be considered rude or even abusive yet we do it to ourselves without any second thoughts. When did this become acceptable?
    According to one particular study, we have an average of 13 negative self-image thoughts each day…. 13! That’s insane. Not only that but these thoughts are typically increased following exposure to thin/ideal body images in the media. What’s even more scary is that studies indicate that girls begin having negative thoughts about their body image between ages 3-6!
    So how do we stop this ridiculousness and silence our inner critic???….. The answer is mindfulness!
    Mindfulness involves awareness and acceptance of the present moment without judgement. It involves stepping back from your thoughts and watching them with curiosity and openness. With this degree of separation we are able to let them go without reacting to them. Here are some easy steps to follow:
    1)    Notice your thoughts when you have them.
    See if you can notice how many negative self-image thoughts you have each day. What is the nature of these thoughts? Are they leading to more negative thoughts? E.g. “My hips look big in these jeans, wow my hips are huge, OMG I’m so fat, no one’s ever going to love me”. Are these thoughts all about the same body area or are they different? Perhaps it’s the same reoccurring thought each day.
    2)    See if you can notice where your thoughts are coming from.
    Have you had a shit day at work – are you feeling overwhelmed or deflated as a result?  Have you just had an argument with a friend or partner – are you feeling down about yourself? Have you just watched a movie or read a magazine filled with highly attractive, thin and dolled up actors/models – are you comparing yourself to others?
    3)    Accept them without judgment
    Let these thoughts come and go without holding on to them or obsessing over them. Let’s face it, NONE of us are perfect and we’re ALL going to have days when we’re feeling down and aren’t 100% happy with our appearance. Be cool with that. Let these thought simply pass by without reacting to them. Let them float away just as easily as they floated in. Don’t let them hang around yelling for your attention.
    4)    Notice what you like about your body
    We too easily obsess over things we dislike about our appearance, yet rarely do we acknowledge the things we do like. Imagine we had 13 positive thoughts about our body image each day. How great would we feel?! When you catch yourself having a negative thought, see if you can also think about 2 things that you like about your body. This will help shift your focus to the things you love about yourself rather than the things that you wish were different.
    By following these 4 steps we will be training our brain to catch ourselves when we’re critising our body image, and instead help us to remain objective and non-reactive. Accepting our negative thoughts and generating new positive ones will allow us to strengthen positive thought patterns in our brain, and in turn weaken the pathways that lead to cycles of negative self-talk.
    At the end of the day, all we have is our little humble selves. We need to nurture and be kind to ourselves, relish in the strengths we have and know that we are amazing. Everyone has flaws (even that person you think is perfectly flawless), stop comparing yourself to others and stop beating yourself up with negative self-talk. Because you are beautiful just the way you are.

    Michelle

  • Am I doing it right? Ways to know your Mindfulness practice is progressing.

    So you’ve just started meditating or have been doing it for a little while now, and you’re wondering where this enlightenment thing is? You may have to keep at it for a good 10 years to reach enlightenment, BUT you can reap the benefits sooner than that. Much sooner. So how do you know you’re getting somewhere with your meditation practice? Here is an overview of some of the benefits you may gain in different areas of your life, to know you’re benefitting from the practice. Everyone meditates slightly differently with little tricks and habits, and everyone will notice different things, but here are a few of the big ones.
    You will begin to feel more love and compassion for yourself and others, and less anger and frustration. This is because meditation develops your capacity for emotional regulation. You may even develop a deeper empathy and concern for the wellbeing of others. You may notice yourself being much less reactive to negative thoughts. The aim of mindfulness is to reach a state of equanimity, no matter how fleeting the experience is. This is a state where you don’t have either a positive or negative judgement about your thoughts, feeling and experiences, they are just there.
    You might notice it in your relationships. If you observe the way in which you interact with your partner, children or friends, you might notice yourself feeling more calm – especially in situations that would have bothered or even aggravated you in the past. This is because meditation is training your brain to become less reactive to your emotions. You will be able to take a step back from habitual thoughts and reactions, accept what is occurring and choose to respond more appropriately.
    You might notice a greater sense of peace and calmness within. You may find yourself on your phone less and less during your commute to work or wait at the doctor’s office. Instead you would be content simply being with yourself and your thoughts. Being present is such a powerful thing, and once you have had a taste of its sweetness, it’s hard to go back to bombarding yourself Facebook, emails, music, calls, and Twitter all at once!
    You will become more aware of the world around you. You might notice new buildings or plants on your way to work that you hadn’t ever noticed before. With a new curiosity for the world, you may begin to experience the world and all its monotonous nature with a new appreciation. You really start to notice things that you may not have been aware of before, because you are in your body and not up in your head chattering away. You might become more aware of the interactions between those around you. Your attention and concentration will improve, which research has shown time after time.
    The effects won’t be so huge at the beginning, but after some consistency, you will start to notice small differences in your way of being and interacting. Meditation helps foster a mind and body connection, so you may notice benefits in either or both of these arenas. You will know when you’re making progress, just like when you know if your medicine is having an effect. You will be able to tell. Just wait it out. Everyone experiences meditation and its effects a little differently. Everyone is on their own personal path of progression. So don’t compare yourself to others. Just notice what the differences are within YOU.

  • HAVE WE GOT HAPPINESS ALL WRONG?

    We all want to be happy right? But what does it even mean to be happy? Is there such thing as long lasting happiness? And if so how can we access it?
    Let’s start by looking at the definition of happiness….

    Happiness
    : a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
    This sounds pretty accurate right? Well if this is the case, I think that it pretty much rules out the possibility of long-term happiness. I highly doubt there’s anyone who lives day-by-day experiencing only positive emotions, the Dalai Lama included! Seriously, who feels pleasure or contentment when they’re running late and get stuck in traffic? When they have a shit-load of work to do and deadlines to meet? Or when they’ve got exciting plans for the weekend but end up having to stay in cause they’ve come down with the flu?

    So we must ask ourselves, according to the above definition, is it really natural or even healthy to live in a state of happiness 24/7?

    We have evolved to experience a wide range of emotions, many of which serve a purpose despite being somewhat uncomfortable to experience. Anxiety for example triggers the release of adrenaline and gives us faster reflexes so that we’re prepared for the challenge. Stress helps us get shit done that we otherwise may not have the motivation for. But wait a minute, what about sadness? What purpose does feeling down-hearted and miserable serve?
    Unfortunately we cannot experience positive emotions without also experiencing negative emotions as they’re both linked to the human capacity to care. We are caring beings. We care about our relationships with others. This is why when we develop a deep connection with another person we feel happy, and when we are hurt or rejected by another we feel sad. We care about our careers and having a steady income, so when we do well at our job we feel content and when we don’t we feel disappointed or frustrated. A mother cares for her children so when they come home from school with asmile on their face they too are cheerful but when they’re child is having difficulties learning or is having trouble fitting in they will feel sorrowful and upset.

    You simply cannot have positive emotions without also experiencing negative emotions; unless of course you stopped caring, but then your life would be completely lacking in meaning and purpose.

    So why is it that when we don’t feel happy we feel defective or unsatisfied with our life? Isn’t life supposed to be challenging? If you feel anxious or fearful it may just mean that you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and in doing so you are experiencing personal growth. If you feel lost or disoriented, perhaps it’s because you have just started a new job or have moved to a new city. This is teaching you to be adaptive to new situations. If you have been through a painful break up it has more than likely made your heart and soul stronger in the long run. So really these emotions shouldn’t make us feel inadequate or lacking in any way. They should rather make us feel normal and human.
    You may be thinking “But what about people who have chronic anxiety or anger issues?”. Of course everything in moderation is okay, anything more can become problematic. Negative emotions can lead to personal growth and development depending on our attitude towards them. For example with anxiety, it often becomes problematic due to our struggle with it. When we experience sensations of anxiety we tend to freak out. We become anxious about feeling anxious which causes our anxiety to intensify. We may even become angry or disappointed with ourselves for getting so anxious. However, if we were to drop this struggle with anxiety when we felt its initial presence it may have never become a problem. Performers all experience anxiety even those with loads of experience. They have however learnt to channel their anxiety (adrenaline rush) into their performance.
    So if it’s completely normal to experience a wide range of emotions, how would we live, what one would consider to be a ‘happy’ life? I believe the key to living a happy life is through mindfulness and gratitude.
    Mindfulness is the ability to tune into our senses and be fully aware of the present moment. When negative thoughts and feelings do arise (and they always will) mindfulness involves the ability to be aware of them whilst remaining non-judgemental and non-reactive. So for example, if we feel anxious we might notice the tension building up in our chest or the sweatiness of our palms. We would pay attention to this with openness and curiosity. So when starting a new job we might observe these sensations as nervousness and remain flexible and open, rather than becoming fully consumed by them (which may otherwise lead us to feel incompetent or even depressed).

    We might not like what we are feeling but by becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions, we are able to step back from our automatic judgments that lead us to feel defective.

    Gratitude is equally important as mindfulness. Unfortunately we all have an innate negativity bias. This means that we give more weight to unpleasant thoughts, emotions or social interactions than we do to those of a neutral or positive nature (and also tend to remember them more easily!). So by engaging in the daily practice of gratitude we are training our brain to tune in to the positives and in turn rewiring the neural pathways in our brain. Research has demonstrated the profound effects that gratitude can have on the way we view the world, our mood, and the way in which we interact with other people.
    Thus living through mindfulness will allow us to experience the full range of emotions that we are supposed to experience as humans whilst remaining content with who we are and overall satisfied with life. In addition to this, expressing gratitude daily (even just in your own private gratitude diary) can help boost your happiness levels each and every day. The idea that all humans are supposed to be happy all the time is a common misconception. Be mindful and grateful instead and this will bring you TRUE happiness!
    Image source : Alexandra Valenti
    Michelle

  • QUIT BEING A D*CK TO YOURSELF AND SHOW A LITTLE SELF-COMPASSION

    Self-compassion is one of the most important qualities to cultivate in today’s society. It is a cultural norm to be constantly striving to work harder, to be more productive and be successful in every aspect of life. Such an environment breeds self-criticism. We often have such high standards for ourselves and beat ourselves up when we do not meet these expectations.
    Interestingly though, we often find ourselves telling our friends not to be so hard on themselves, that all that matters is that they tried their best or that it’s okay that they got rejected or failed at something; there will always be another opportunity. However, when it comes to our own challenges and defeats we have a MUCH harder time giving ourselves the same advice. Instead we fall into cycles of self-doubt and harsh criticism. It seems self-compassion is almost non-existent in our vocabulary. We always hear about how we should be kind to others but what isn’t highlighted is the importance of being kind to ourselves.
    Self-criticism has been linked to release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol by tapping into our innate threat defence system. By contrast, self-compassion has been found to reduce these stress hormones and increase the release of oxytocin and opiates (feel-good hormones). Thus self-compassion sets the foundation for a healthy mindset which in turn, allows for greater self-acceptance and self-confidence.
    Further, research has consistently demonstrated a strong link between self-compassion and overall mental wellbeing. In fact, self-compassion has been shown to act as a buffer against negative emotions during unfavourable life events and to increase self-improvement motivation after personal failure. Basically when you’re feeling like sh*t, it pays to be kind to yourself!
    So, what does it even mean to be self-compassionate?? How can we be kind to ourselves in practice?
    Kristen Neff’s pioneering research suggests that self-compassion is an adaptive form of self-relation that involves the capacity to:

    • Be understanding of oneself during times of difficulty rather than being self-critical.

    When going through difficult periods in life we too often engage in negative self-talk, “I’m so pathetic”, “I look so gross today”, “wow, I am so dumb”. As Neff pointed out in her TED talk:
    ‘We often say things to ourselves that we would never say to someone we care about… we say things to ourselves that we probably wouldn’t even say to someone we didn’t like very much’.
    We should instead be treating ourselves with kindness, encouragement, empathy and patience, just as we would treat those we love and especially through times of hardship.

    • Acknowledge that suffering is part of the human experience rather than feeling isolated.

    As humans, life is never going to be perfect. We are all going to have negative experiences or feel vulnerable at times. Thus rather than letting our misfortunes and imperfections make us feel different and isolated they should rather make us feel more connected as they are a normal part of our shared human experience.

    • Be mindfully aware of painful thoughts and feelings rather than over-identifying with them or attempting to escape from them.

    When experiencing negative thoughts or feelings we often either obsess over them making them worse or attempt to suppress or deny them. Mindfulness is all about developing a non-judgmental and non-reactive awareness to our thoughts and feelings. Even just being aware of these thoughts is helpful. As Neff points out, we often don’t even notice our suffering especially when it comes from our own self-judgment for example “I can’t believe I’m missing another workout, I’m so lazy. I’m never going to reach my goals”. As we become aware of these thoughts, we have the opportunity to remind ourselves that feeling guilty is a normal human emotion. By treating ourselves with compassion in these instances, we would likely live much happier lives.
    It’s clear that the thing we need most in times of difficulty is to be kind to ourselves! We need to train ourselves to take notice of our negative self-talk, pause to imagine what we’d say to a friend who was in our position and treat ourselves accordingly.
     
    Michelle