How Compassion Helps You Fight Back Against the Hurtful Voices in Your Head

In the third part of this series on learning to love yourself after a violent relationship, I look at how to use compassion to actually change the way your mind works.

As I talked about here and here, abuse disrupts our ability to seek out and provide the warmth and nurture that all mammals need to function. Our response mechanisms short-circuit and we have to relearn how to treat ourselves with gentleness and care.

Plus, when you’ve experienced a trauma like domestic violence, your fight-or-flight reactors go into overdrive as you try to combat the very real external threat.

But the upshot of our traumatic experience is that we’re also under attack from internal threats: pain, despair, loss, heartbreak – intense emotions that hurt and frighten us.

From a psychological perspective, we react the same way to external threats as to internal ones. So, when these feelings rise up, we counter-attack. We self-attack.

We treat the emotions with ridicule, aggression, frustration or disappointment. We try to fight them away.

But these emotions aren’t an external threat that you can simply force into retreat. They are part of you, and fighting with them will hurt you.

When our legitimate distress is met with cruelty and rejection, it makes us feel ashamed. We tell ourselves that we’re weak, stupid, not good enough… that we brought this on ourselves.

One way to tackle this is to imagine the self-attacking voice – the voice that shames you for the way you feel – as a separate person. Try to visualise them. What do they look like? What emotions are they directing at you? What do they want from you?

Then: Do they have your best interests at heart? What would happen if they left you alone? Who gains from them treating you like this?

Why are you scared of standing up to them?

You may find that the person you hear attacking you isn’t your own voice at all. You may find that it sounds suspiciously like the partner that made your life miserable. Or a parent, authority figure or bully that made you feel small. Maybe even someone that made you feel like you weren’t strong enough to stand up to the abuse.

And, if that’s the case, ask yourself: what right, what legitimacy, does that person have to attack you like this? Why do you feel you have to submit to their opinion?

What makes you think that their criticisms are at all valid?

Working out where this voice comes from won’t make it shut up. But that doesn’t mean you have to listen.

Instead, work on developing some empathy for your negative emotions. Remember the compassionate image that you developed? How would they respond to someone feeling your pain?

This is not easy. You’re working against the fight-or-flight instincts that tell you how to handle a threat. You’re talking over the voice that has dominated your emotional defenses for far too long. It will not let you take over without a struggle.

But you have to challenge the authority of that voice. You can’t just accept it – and you certainly can’t just accept it as part of who you are.

Be patient. You may need to try out different ways of handling your negative emotions and showing kindness to yourself before you find a way that works for you. These feelings might take a long time to quiet down.

What’s more, in order to really heal, you have to go beyond self-soothing – you also need to gather positive momentum for the future, setting goals and giving your vulnerable self the motivation and encouragement it needs to succeed.

The important thing is that, however you do it, you’re approaching yourself with compassion. You’re not judging, shaming or attacking the negative emotions. You’re not giving credence to the voice that attacks you.

If you’re struggling to recover from an abusive relationship, I hope that this series has helped you develop the tools you need to be kinder to yourself. If you feel you need more support, please do get in touch. I’ve helped hundreds of people to get through their divorce trauma – if you’d like to hear more, you can book a clarity call here.

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The First Step Domestic Violence Survivors Can Take to Learn to Love Themselves Again

Last week I described how many survivors of domestic violence and abuse get so caught up in beating themselves up that they can’t give themselves the care and compassion they need to heal.

In this post, I’ll explain how to take the first step towards fixing this problem, by building a compassionate image.

If you’ve been a violent relationship, you’ve been deprived of the things that we need the most from those we love, in order to feel psychologically sound and healthy.

Things like kindness, nurture, and a sense of physical and emotional safety.

This can make it hard to picture what a loving persona actually looks like.

We all know what words like kindness and love and compassion mean on an intellectual level – but when we’ve been hurt and betrayed, it’s hard to really feel them.

The purpose of the compassionate image exercise is to start to reconnect with these ideas on an emotional level by creating a fully-formed image of compassion. This gives us an internal reference point that we can keep coming back to.

As a starting point, your compassionate image needs to be built around four essential qualities: warmth, strength, wisdom and non-judgement. Beyond this, it is your own personal ideal and should reflect all the ways in which you want to be loved and cared for.

Find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and breathe deeply and focus without any distractions. Your mind might wander, and that’s ok – just try to guide it gently back to the image you’re creating. You want to feel as relaxed as possible, so don’t try to force anything!

Then, guide your image by asking yourself questions such as:

How would you want your ideal caring-compassionate image to look? Are they human, or is this represented by a particular animal? Or even something else entirely, like sunlight, or the sea? What colours do you associate with them? If they are human, are they male or female? Young or old? Would they look like you?

How would your ideal caring-compassionate image sound? What are their vocal qualities (if they have them)? How does this make you feel?

What other sensory qualities are attached to your ideal caring-compassionate image? Keep in mind the qualities of warmth, strength, wisdom and non-judgment here.

How would you like your ideal caring-compassionate image to relate to you? How would you relate to them?

Perhaps you connect through touch? Laughter? Vocal support? Or perhaps it’s simply an unspoken sense of security?

Try to keep in mind all the time that this image brings you complete compassion.

As you continue in your healing journey, this compassion image will be something you refer back to again and again. You can use it to remind yourself what warmth, strength and love truly look like for you – and can tap back into this ideal when you’re tempted to lash out at yourself and others, or when those around you treat you with less compassion than you need.

It gives you a benchmark for working out what kind of people you genuinely want to have in your life – and the kind of person that you want to be.

In my next post, I’ll explain how, armed with your compassionate image, you can start to use compassion to change the way your mind works, helping you to break out of self-destructive cycles and get on the right road to recovery.

Have you tried the compassionate image exercise? I’d love to hear about your experience – if you feel comfortable, please do let me know in the comments section below.

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Are You A Giver Or A Taker In Your Relationships?

6956173-girl-hands-daisy-flowers-summer-moodSome people live life being just on the take – looking at what they can get out of every situation. They’re also not interested in doing something unless they get something in return.

In some way none of us will do anything unless we get something out of it but true joy in life comes from giving without a guarantee of receiving anything in return. Like unconditional love.

If you find yourself being conditional in the gifts you give people i.e. I gave you x, you owe me y then your gift was not given unconditionally.

From taker to dictator

I think self-centered people often wind up taking the Dictator role in relationships. Especially if they’re paired with a giver. This is where `who gets what and how much` is always determined by the taker, the other partner gets whatever the taker decides they’ll get. And that’s that.

This inevitably leads to unhappiness for the taker’s partner. And a failing relationship.

You can’t take and win

This fascinating study ‘Reciprocity is Not Give and Take’ illustrates a powerful reason why takers kill relationships. With a series of experiments, a team at the University of Chicago found that when it comes to social relationships, including intimate relationships, when one side gives, the other side can give equally and both parties feel satisfied.

But when one side takes, and then in return the other side takes the same or receives something of equal value, then the dictator (sorry I mean the taker) is the only happy one left. The other party who was initially taken from is still not happy. It’s just human nature.

So to sum this up, the only relationship that can work and flourish is two givers. But watch out, there are still ways being a giver can be bad for you.

Be a giver, not a record-keeping matcher

Make sure you’re a giver, and not a matcher – someone who remembers every little thing they gave and expects the equal amount in return, or they’re just not happy. This Psychology Today article explains the matcher nicely.

Very often such matchers don’t even express all the things they feel the other party owes them and they become martyrs – always giving, giving, giving and feeling sad and frustrated because the world just isn’t giving back. See my earlier post on martyrs here. Don’t become one!

Givers can be taken advantage of

In any relationship the giver is the happiest and also potentially the unhappiest.

Just make sure you’re with another giver, not a taker or a matcher. And the best way to be is always strive to give unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. Except perhaps that warm feeling of giving to someone you love.

Give from the heart because you want to. I think you’ll agree that’s true love and the foundation of something beautiful.

How to know you’re receiving unconditional love

And at the same time respect yourself, don’t be taken disadvantage of and make sure you’re receiving unconditional love too. Not in a tit-for-tat way. But just be aware of it.

When you’re conscious of this you’ll know if your partner is playing the role of a taker and dictator. And you can communicate it to them if they are, because they’re probably unaware of it.

When your partner gives love and is happy, regardless, you know it’s no strings attached giving. And when you mess up, make poor choices, get in your partner’s way, take a wrong turn or sabotage your own happiness and you’re partner’s not disappointed or irritated. And stays right with you, without judging or punishing. That’s another sign you’re not with a taker.

So, are you a taker or a giver in your relationships?

Share your thoughts!

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Got a Gut Feeling? Your Gut Might Cause ALL Your Feelings!

lose-belly-fat1Do you ever get a gut feeling about something? I was fascinated to learn that our gut and the health of our gut plays a huge role in how we feel.

Almost as much, perhaps even as much, as our minds do.

We spend all our time working our brain and the rest of our body to boost our emotions, but we may be ignoring half the cause of problems. Isn’t it exciting to think that we can literally feel happier and emotionally stronger, even boost our immune system and overall health, just by taking better care of our gut?

If you’re feeling down, anxious, depressed, or just want a big old boost of happiness-inducing serotonin, it turns out your gut most likely has a huge influence over it all, as its proposed in this very entertaining Huffington Post article.

The little friends in your second brain

You’ve probably heard of our friends the ‘good bacteria’ battling it out against the ‘bad bacteria’ in our digestive tract – our second brain. Well, the state of these micro flora and how well the good bacteria are doing determines a whole host of health-related factors.

For example, good bacteria decides how well the toxic by-products of your digestion are neutralized and whether harmful pathogenic bacteria or other substances are prevented or allowed to grow. And it determines how much hormone production there is and many other factors that affect the health of your immune system.

Did you know you have two nervous systems too?

SetWidth700-ADMA-Blog-GUT-FEELING-OR-ANALYTICS-Vlad-Andrianov-V2That’s right. You have two nervous systems – one is the central nervous system we all know and love, which is in your brain and spinal cord. But you also have the ‘enteric’ nervous system, which is in your gastrointestinal tract – your gut.

Through this whole system your brain and gut are connected and the bacteria in your gut sends messages to the brain through the nervous system. These messages affect your mood, and you know the surprising part?

Your gut sends your brain more messages than the other way around. Your gut sends instructions on how to make you feel all day long. And since we can influence those messages, it’s something we should pay attention to, wouldn’t you agree?

Happiness, anxiety and depression

You have neurons in your gut, which is another reason we call it the second brain. And these neurons produce neurotransmitters like serotonin – the primary chemical responsible for your feelings of well-being and happiness. We all know that, right?

But here’s another surprise. Serotonin is found in larger quantities in the gut than in the brain. So let’s influence our primary serotonin-producing environment in our gut and make more of it!

You may have experienced stomach pains or irritable bowel syndrome during times of great anxiety. There’s clearly a strong relationship between anxiety and the health of our gut.

There is even a strong line of scientific work proposing that certain probiotics can affect levels of proinflammatory cytokines and tryptophan in the gut, which have been implicated in depression.

OK, I get it! So how do I start improving my gut?!” I hear you ask.

Well, that’s the next stage of my investigation. And don’t worry, I’ll share my findings with you as I go.

Perhaps you already have some ideas.

Share them with us!

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The Wonderful Benefits of Being Miserable

MiserableBeing miserable is just great, don’t you find?

It’s an art form that’s well worth cultivating. It brings so many benefits to our lives, which is of course why so many people do their very best to excel at it.

Misery doesn’t bring you a better life in any of the shallow, flighty, surface ways people talk about like more friendship, love and lovers. Better relationships with your family, spouse or children. It doesn’t improve your career, financial situation, health, stability, fulfillment or joy of life.

It doesn’t make you happier – well of course it doesn’t; that would be defeating the point!

 

The many benefits of being miserable

 

But this fine craft does allow you to feel superior and special in a way other people just don’t understand, which is fantastic. You can become a martyr overnight with a bit of misery – the innocent victim who tries so, so hard to be happy (not too hard though, be careful) and then the world just seems to conspire against you. You poor thing.

In an age where we have relative peace and prosperity, and more opportunities than ever before, it can be quite hard to find ways to feel like the beaten-down underdog. Misery solves that problem in a jiffy!

 

You get sooo much attention

 

And this is the greatest benefit of all: being miserable gets you so much attention and compassion. Big-hearted and guilt-prone people especially will feel compelled to help you, to listen to you, to feel sorry for you. Here’s the best part: people feel vaguely guilty around you too.

You’re sure to always have company. Misery loves company, and you make people more and more miserable around you. Some will leave you, but never mind about them. They just don’t get it.

 

And there’s more! You come across as so wise and worldly, because you notice all the crap in the world. You are the first to see what’s wrong with everything and every idea. And you stop people just when they were about to blindly run forwards happily into something fun, without paying due attention to what could go wrong.

You’re like a profound, tragic guru of worldly wisdom. How awesome is that!

And you never experience disappointment or disillusion, because you never expect or hope for anything in the first place. You never experience loss or deep pain because you get rid of meaningful love from your life in the first place.

“I get it! I’m sold! So how do I get good at being miserable!?” I hear you cry. Here are a few tips to set you on your way.

 

How to be miserable – your quick 10-step guide

 

  1. Make good things small and temporary

If anything good happens and you accidentally notice it, make sure you see it as being temporary and as small as possible. Like a glitch in the system.

  1. Make bad things huge and everlasting

When something bad happens, make sure you notice and express how terrible it was, and how it happened because it always happens, and the effects will last forever. Here’s a tip: the more you talk about it, the more a problem lasts and spreads.

  1. See bad intentions behind everything

Turn innocent remarks into calculated insults from horrible people who intended to cause pain. See attempted attacks and offence behind everything.

  1. Do everything for personal gain

Never just do something for someone else unless you can get something out of it. Make sure you point out how everyone else giving to others is doing it for themselves too.

  1. Be terrified of economic loss

Talk about how close you are to being broke all the time. Worry consistently about losing your job. Watch the news and find all the evidence you can that you are on the brink of bankruptcy and destruction.

  1. Cultivate a negative identity

If you have any personal problems, make them the only things that matter about you. Become a Depressed Person, an Anxious Person, etc. Oh, and of course make sure those problems last longer and get bigger.

  1. Don’t feel or express gratitude

Gratitude has no place in the life of a true misery master. There’s nothing in this world to be grateful for – make that your mantra.

  1. Blame your parents and background

Always remember, your life was set out before you even had a chance. Your parents messed you up, so that’s that. They are the cause of all your shortcomings and failures.

  1. Don’t be shallow and enjoy the little things

Take no pleasure in the beautiful, lovely things in life. Good conversation, art, wine, music, beauty. Leave that to shallow, pathetic happy people who just don’t understand.

  1. Focus on yourself and on the past

Ruminate and regret. Think and talk incessantly about every little problem you might have in your character, or something that happened to you. Don’t let anything go! All that mostly-imagined baggage is precious – and the key to a glorious life of absolute misery.

 

Here’s one extra bonus tip – always pretend you want to be happy. Pretend to yourself too. If you start admitting that deep down you’re trying to be miserable – well, you might just start thinking how absurd it all is and become happy instead.

And that would ruin everything!

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Don’t Hate the Love Month, Learn to Love It!

tumblr_mi7851G9Nl1qlo84oo1_500The love month is upon us, and some people hate it because they are single. Is this you?

Well, time to cheer up – here’s how anyone can learn to love the love month. The thing to remember is that a romantic relationship is not just about sex. It’s about intimacy too, in all its many guises.

Love and intimacy are actually around you all the time in different forms. The problem is, as human beings in our society, we are attached to love or intimacy in a particular form or package.

If it isn’t tall, dark and handsome with the name ‘boyfriend’ OR hot and sexy with the name ‘girlfriend’ then we reject it. And when we do that, we fail to see just how much love we have in our life so we wind up running around spitting at couples and cursing at happy matches because we feel angry about being single.

tumblr_mhg7ttnalJ1qj4315o1_400Love is all around you, it’s no cliché

Love is all around and perhaps you don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend but you will have 4-5 amazing people in your life who provide love in its different ways.

This feeling we have of a need for love is actually a need for the various components of love and intimacy, and when we reject and shut off these things because they do not fit some sort of socially accepted package, we are stopping ourselves from enjoying a huge amount of pleasure endorphins and overall feelings of wellbeing.

If you break down the components of a romantic relationship, you might find you have a lot of love around. Here are some examples.

Companionship

Your mother/father/the dude you watch football with/a friend you watch movies with or collect stamps with – who provides companionship in your life? You get this in many places.

Snuggles

Who do you get snuggles from? Perhaps a beloved pet, a huggy friend, your mother/father or a giant teddy bear. You could volunteer at a shelter or go visit a dogs’ home or buy a giant pink panther teddy bear. You could even put a sign up that you will give away free hugs to get your snuggle time. The simple act of snuggling releases endorphins – doesn’t matter who or what with.

Laughter

Who makes you laugh? Don’t tell me no one makes you laugh in your life! Surround yourself with gigglers or go try out some Laughter Yoga.

Good Listening

Find someone in your life who really listens to you and gets you. You already know this person and perhaps you don’t spend enough time with him or her. Schedule that in.

Romance

When you are single, it’s tricky to get the romance fix BUT there are probably single people in your life you can flirt with so find them and flirt with them.

If you are brave and put yourself out there into environments where you are in close physical contact with new people, it might just creep up on you. Join a dance class and try out that tango with a hunky man, or go to a dating event and simply enjoy the spark of getting to know new people.

See how much easier the love month is to bear when you break it down and find the components?

Go and get the intimacy you need. It’s all there just waiting for you!

Happy Valentine’s day!

Lots of hugs

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