I recently spoke with a close friend who in my opinion is attractive, slim and very feminine, not over 8 stone and about 5 foot tall. Given the latter, I was surprised when the conversation turned to some very substantial worries that were setting in for her around her ‘big manly shoulders,’ ‘wide hips’ and ‘masculine gait.’ She was convinced that most people, particularly her new boyfriend, both noticed and held negative judgements about all of these supposedly obvious traits of hers.
Of course, she is not the only one whose mirror image seems to reflect back something quite extraordinary. Many of us at some point in our lives (or indeed, throughout our lives) see something in our reflection which does not at all match what others say or feel about us. It can be difficult to determine what the reality is, as well as the extent to which it should ‘matter.’
According to the NHS, Body Dysmorphia (or BDD) affects about 1% of the UK population. I would argue that this figure is substantially higher. Many people stay quiet about their insecurities, often afraid that if they voice them, they’ll somehow become more noticeable.
BDD is not a question of vanity, but of deep insecurity and a yearning or need for perfection which can never be achieved. It is a sense that we can never be good enough for ourselves, and somehow it is all our own fault.
What exactly is BDD?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is the name for the destructive pattern of thinking that attacks us when we look in the mirror, compare ourselves to others (particularly the perfect images we see in the media), and pay heed to the voice that lives inside our head, constantly claiming to feel too fat, too wide, too old, too young, too bony, too lopsided or just not good enough. It often sets in during adolescence and can affect us throughout our lives, particularly during times of change in our outer worlds.
Officially, BDD is: “An anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance and to have a distorted view of how they look. For example, a barely visible scar can seem like a major flaw.”
What happens to those who suffer?
For many, symptoms of BDD are minor and may only cause problems from time to time. Other sufferers of BDD develop habits and characteristics designed to cover up the perceived ‘defects,’ which over time can be comparable to symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Others may develop severe depression and problems in relationships, perhaps needing reassurance from the partner which somehow never quite lands. Some end up in psychiatric care, convinced they are unacceptable and would be happy if only they looked different.
How can things improve?
Healing from symptoms of body dysmorphia can be very difficult, especially if you have no support. There is a need to identify where destructive patterns of thinking originate, to understand your perception of ‘truth,’ and to work out how to put new thought patterns into place, in a way that makes sense for you as an individual.
You must also forgive yourself for your own perceived shortcomings, and learn to love yourself regardless of how you look or feel. This means changing the habit of turning your back on yourself and succumbing to negative judgements! If you can do the latter, you will realise that everything we or others see on the surface is just transitory and is so for a reason; what really matters is what is hidden to the eye.
If you would like help with identifying and tackling the symptoms of body dysmorphia as well as learning to love yourself just as you are (cue Bridget Jones), you may find counselling helpful. Contact email@example.com or get in touch with Jeni on 07586 444941 for more details.
Childhood dreams – and the ghosts that haunt them
A nostalgic image popped into my head recently of the library where I first learnt to read. It was a quaint village library in a listed building dating back to the 1800s.
As I focused on the image, more details came to mind. More than anything, I remembered sitting for hours in there, avidly reading back cover after back cover and excitedly rummaging out new titles. Every book was a whole new world.
Reading was my passion, and perhaps as a knock-on effect, so was writing. I used to dream about being a writer one day, waking up each morning, my towel still on my head from the morning shower (that’s how it went in my mind!), sitting down to write the next chapter of my next book. I never thought about writing FOR somebody. It was purely about the love of writing.
My mind flickered to other events, this time more negative. The paragraph that made my first primary school teacher roll her eyes with sarcasm, the fictional story that made my parents yawn and exchange ‘a look,’ and the moment that Mrs Gibbons felt the need to act out a romantic scene from my homework assignment for my secondary school classmates at break time.
Those memories, although seemingly meaningless, are the ones (amongst others) that stuck to my subconscious for years like leeches, sucking away my enthusiasm and joy. I conveniently forgot the positive comments, and pushed away the knowledge of how it would feel to actually finish something and make writing a more prominent part of my life.
Reviving the dream and tackling the ghosts
However, that was not the final chapter. I experienced several inner revivals (re-writes) over the years, until gradually I realised that I needed to tackle my fears and procrastinations head on. Recently, the inner revival has become more permanent. I find that I am in a process of rediscovering the true joy of writing, which is a wonderful feeling.
If you feel that you are lacking joy or lustre in your life due to part of you or your creativity being repressed, do something about it TODAY!
Try these 6 steps to bring your calling into awareness and begin to find a place for it in your life:
- BECOME CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS
- Start to reflect on the moments in which you tend to become depressed, anxious or angry – could any of this be related to not living the life you really want to live? What does your inner wisdom tell you about this?
- OPEN UP TO A GOOD LISTENER
- Talking in depth about your ‘inner calling’ with somebody who can simply listen and reflect back what you have said can help you to clarify what it is you really want and what your fears are. Nb; an inner calling can even be something you believe you hate, yet for some reason you keep coming back to – realise that you now have the power to change that part of it which you originally hated
- CONTEMPLATE THE END
- Design an imaginary tombstone for yourself: How would you like people to remember you and what are your reasons for that? How does this link to your inner calling?
- EXPLORE THE PAST
- What are your earliest memories of experiencing this calling? How did it make you feel and how did you know that it was something you were meant to do?
- What are the key points at which your passion for it was dampened? Think carefully about reactions from family members, teachers and friends, or anybody you shared yourself with.
- ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR INNER CHILD
- What feelings and emotions did you integrate around this calling as a child i.e., ‘I’m not good enough’ ‘I sound silly’ ‘I will never be able to do it my way.’ Are you still carrying these feelings around with you?
- Take a long hard look at yourself and ask: Do I have any good solid evidence to prove that these feelings are 100% valid in the present? How can you reassure your ‘inner child’ when those feelings emerge again under the guise of ‘protecting’ you from pain?
- TAKE ACTION!
- Start to identify all of the things you did over the past week to distract yourself from your true calling. Make a list. Write a large L (for Later) next to all the things that were not as urgent as you made them out to be. Once you have done that, make time to explore your feelings around it. Don’t just push your discoveries to one side.
- Make changes to your daily routine. Re-frame any negative feedback you receive (now or in the past) into conscious constructive criticism. Start to live each day conscious of your purpose and calling.
Rediscovering the ‘you’ that you left behind
Of course, it is not always easy to identify and resolve certain feelings on your own. It is not easy to uncover the moment that somewhere inside of you, you left yourself behind to go out into the world. There are often complex issues linked to bringing something back into consciousness and it can be very helpful to explore and confront these over time with the help of a professional.
If you would like to see a counsellor about this or a related issue, contact Jeni through firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07586 444941. I currently have slots available in Clapham on Tuesday afternoons, in Maida Vale on Wednesday evenings. We can also discuss possible alternative times.
A one-off weekend workshop dedicated to rediscovery!
If you would like the chance to explore this topic in a small private group, my colleague Benjamin Keene will be running a dedicated weekend workshop on the subject this 18th and 19th October in Maida Vale.
The workshop title is ‘Release your inner fire to find meaning and purpose in life.’ There will be a balanced mix of discussion and creative exercises. Cost is just £50 for the weekend if booked in advance. Email email@example.com for more details and to reserve a place. Please note that places are limited.
If you have experiences or thoughts on this subject, please do leave a comment by clicking in the box next to the title. I would love to hear from you!
I met up with an old friend yesterday who spoke to me about her relationship. She looked so devastated when she arrived that I was convinced something dreadful had happened. Her face was pale and she described a tightening around her heart. I noticed that her hands were clammy and shaky.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“It’s M,” she said, “I know he doesn’t love me. I’ve always known, and I know that one day he’ll leave me because of it.”
“How do you know he doesn’t love you?” I asked her.
“Because every time we have an argument, he wants to leave.” She replied. “For that reason, I know that he doesn’t love me unconditionally. It’s always me who has to go after him!”
I thought about this later on. I knew the couple well, and I could certainly see how much he loved her. In fact, lots of people could see it. It was as though she was destroying her relationship purely through her lack of belief that it was real!
Not feeling loved can be caused by many things. It can be linked to events between you in the past that you have been scared to talk about, or, in couples therapy speak, ‘work through.’ It can also be about not hearing the love language from your partner that you need to hear. So if your love language is around the written word, and your partner just keeps repairing your broken down boiler or puts in an entirely new kitchen for you thinking it will show how much he cares, it just won’t sink in (no pun intended).
Another reason for not feeling loved can be our childhood experiences. For example, if our attachment figure (or parent) was not emotionally available in those early years, we can run away from conflict as adults because it reminds us of the pain of not being wanted or loved. What’s the point of staying with our partner to resolve an argument if the deeper belief is that the person won’t hang around for long anyway?
If our caregiver was sometimes overwhelmingly or intrusively present, but sometimes inexplicably absent, we may become ‘anxious attached,’ which often means that when we have difficulties in relationship we are split in two, half avoiding the pain and half desperately clinging to the hope that it can be resolved in any way possible (even if it’s actually impossible). Glass half full and half empty at the same time.
We often meet a partner who expresses love in a different way, and who also deals with conflict in a different way. This can lead us to believe that we are unloved, because we expect the other person to be the same as we are and to express their loving feelings in the same way.
Learning another person’s relationship language does not come easily! Couples therapy can help you to understand your partner better and ultimately to both receive and express love more healthily.
If you are interested in deepening or rebuilding your connection with your partner, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07586 444941. Sessions last for 1.5-2 hours and currently cost £80.00.
It is around this time of year when many of us set ourselves resolutions, in an attempt to help ourselves finally accomplish our ‘dreams.’ We all have things we’d like to achieve in 2014, whether that’s a career dream, romantic pursuit, personal ambition or just a state of being that is perhaps calmer and more peaceful. We often set ourselves New Year resolutions based on very conscious dreams and ambitions. A selection of those I heard recently were: I’d like to stop smoking, I want a promotion, I’m going to finally change jobs, I really am now going to lose that weight, I’m going to visit my mother more often…
Those conscious dreams can be very exciting when we verbalise them. But what about the unconscious barriers that have stopped us from achieving them to date? What makes the New Year a better time to achieve them than any other? What has changed internally? Perhaps nothing! Maybe that is why so many New Year resolutions are repeated year on year, because nothing has changed deep down, so we’re still unable to get there.
One way to understand the hidden barriers that stop us from achieving our dreams and ambitions is to explore in more detail our unconscious dreams – that’s those dreams we have when we go to sleep at night. Dreams and nightmares do not always speak the language that we are accustomed to when awake, yet they still bring us important messages! These messages tend to be disguised in ‘dream language,’ symbolism, strange imagery and unlikely situations.
Often we’re put off from exploring the meaning of our dreams because we tend to think about what we have seen in a very rational way. We comment ‘what a weird dream’ and then ‘put it back to bed’ as it were. However, when we learn to pull our dreams apart and really explore what each separate element could mean to our lives, we can decipher huge amounts about ourselves and what we need to learn! The signs and symbols of a dream can be keys to unlocking our potential and understanding our blocks. They can point us towards what we need to be focusing on, dealing with or incorporating into our lives – whether that’s a behaviour, a quality, an attitude, person, or anything else.
Dream interpretation is not straightforward of course. We can use a website like http://www.dreammoods.com which also explains the Jungian archetypes that appear in dreams, or buy a book like the Illustrated Dictionnary of Dream Symbols by Joe Ibojie. However, in order to really get some direction from our dreams, we need to explore also what they mean to ourselves personally.
It is helpful to buy a dream journal such as the Bedtime Dream Journal from Amazon where you can write down your dreams as and when you have them. Try telling yourself before sleep to turn on the light and write down your dreams in the night…because assuming you’ll remember them in the morning never works! When you explore your dream the next day, try asking yourself the following:
- What was the feeling I woke up with?
- What were the key feelings experienced at important points during the dream (and what were the important points…)?
- How do those feelings relate to my everyday life? When do they occur?
- Which feelings seem to have been missing in the dream that might have been there if this had happened in ‘real life?’
- Key symbols and images – what do they mean to me? Where have I seen them before? How often do they appear in my dreams and to what do I spontaneously link them?
- If I meditate on this image or symbol, where does it lead?
- What do the traditional dream books say about the meaning of these symbols? Which makes the most sense to me in terms of my life?
- What might the dream be trying to tell me about myself and my life?
Remember not to be too literal about your interpretations. Meanings can be subtle and deep. Dreams need time to be analysed, pondered and reflected upon. You don’t need to reach a concrete conclusion about the meaning, just let it percolate over the days or weeks following and see where your reflections lead you!
It can be helpful to talk through your dreams with somebody who can guide you using a waking technique, or who can assist you in exploring the subconscious links and associations that you already have with them but are perhaps not aware. If you would like more information about working with dreams in a therapeutic sense, contact email@example.com or see www.searchingforself.co.uk
Whatever you dream this year, whether it’s a conscious or a subconscious dream, don’t forget that listening to your innermost desires and really taking your dreams seriously can enable you to live your life in a richer, fuller way. Listening to your subconscious can also enable you to determine whether or not those New Year resolutions really can be achieved – and if they’re what you really want after all!
So you’ve got the well paid job, the healthy mortgage, a good enough diet and an attractive likeable partner who is great at family gatherings. You’ve been through your studies, celebrated each promotion, faithfully showed up at every family Christmas and kept the phone calls home frequent enough to show that you’re busy but available. You’ve achieved everything you wanted to achieve. Your partner is even ready to have your babies just so you can both reproduce your brilliance and give your parents those long hinted after grandchildren!
But something still isn’t right. You can’t settle. You look at courses on the internet, new things to do, new paths to take that will somehow make you feel better, more deserving, more worthy of the praise you receive but never believe. You give to charity, you fight for a cause, and you try to meditate, to become a better person. You change your partner, change your job, change your fitness regime…until one day you collapse, exhausted, and realise that the problem is not outside anymore. The world does everything you ask of it! The problem is with you. You ask yourself, “will anything ever be .… ENOUGH?”
The child who is never enough
The short answer is “NO!” If you were somehow wounded by a perceived lack of mirroring in childhood, then it is very difficult to ever be good enough for yourself (or anybody else) in adulthood. You’re carrying around an unreachable expectation, a consistent nagging somewhere inside that says; ‘If only you’d just….’ ‘you’ll merit your place in this world once you’ve….’ This is not your mother or father anymore, it’s YOU. It is the archetypal parent inside yourself, a voice you internalised that you allowed to take over, castigating your every move, pushing you to do more and more, whilst never allowing you to access the deeper, more peaceful part of you that each and every one of us has inside.
Transpersonal philosophy teaches that when our unique soul qualities are not mirrored as children (and they rarely are), we grow up confused about our place in the world, and with the understanding that we are not enough just as we are. Part of the struggle of life is in learning how to return to who we really are, to find out what is in our soul, and to shake off the expectations we placed on ourselves as we grew up – particularly the voice of the parent inside!
Taking a reality check
Did your parents actually tell you that you were not enough just as you were? More than likely no, they didn’t. They may have said or felt nothing of the sort, but something about the way you related to one another gave you the belief that something wasn’t right with you. Perhaps your parents did not mirror and validate your unique qualities. Perhaps they were emotionally absent in some way, or had unfulfilled expectations of their own that you took on energetically for yourself. No matter what happened to you in the past, perhaps now is the time to understand how you created an image of yourself as a result of your experiences, that no longer needs to be true. Perhaps now you can begin to think about stepping out of that image to live the life that you truly want to live…
Enough is enough!
The first step is about becoming aware that you DO really feel that you will never be enough. Next, try to engage with your internalised archetypal parents by listening to the voices in your head and perhaps drawing out what they might look like if they came to life on paper. Do some speech bubbles around each one imagining what they may say to you. Then, meditate on what you have just uncovered as a part of yourself that keeps on punishing yourself. What has this meant to your life so far? What can you do to re-engage with your heart in 2014, in order to re-discover the true you hidden behind the punishing voices?
If you’d like to know more about the parental archetypes we carry around inside ourselves, or to discuss the possibility of working with inner child/inner archetypes for healing, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit www.searchingforself.co.uk for information about psychotherapy and counselling in South and Central London or via Skype.
Earlier this year I conducted some research on behalf of a popular radio station, about what it means to be a thirty something nowadays. I was struck by the depth of response. You thirties are really putting yourselves through it! Heart rending accounts of decision trauma, failed romance, regret at having kids, anxiety at not having them, IVF and egg freezing, career turmoil – feeling used and abused / feeling you’ve chosen the wrong career / feeling guilty at having made it up the ladder so rapidly or wondering what the hell to do with your life now you have! Repressed entrepreneurial desires – knowing you now have the skills to go it alone yet lacking confidence and still feeling like a child inside. Financial concerns, worries about not being successful enough, feelings that you should have ‘made it’ by now, guilt at lack of ‘success,’ feeling like you’re old and wrinkly in one end of town but young, silly and inexperienced in the other, plus a more vivid and disturbing contemplation of the inevitability of your own death than ever before as parents grow older and grandparents pass away. Exhausting indeed!
But as the research unfolded, something else began to come through about thirties too. Modern day thirties are indeed pressured, busy, stressed and perhaps far too subconsciously competitive to be in any way healthy! Yet at the same time, this ‘thirties life crisis’ often eventually serves to provoke a rebirth of sorts. Like a teenager who yearns to ‘get it right’ when going out into the world for the first time as an adult, thirties are trying to ‘get it right’ in an internal sense. As a modern day thirty, you need to learn for the first time how to please yourselves! In some way or another, you are at a stage in life where you begin to want to uncover, finally, your true heart’s desire. There is a ‘taking back’ of your birthright. Expectations from parents, managers, friends and society at large gradually begin to be questioned and a new sense of personal integrity can emerge. In addition, new qualities and strengths can be uncovered in the self and ‘pulled out’ to be manifested in everyday life, suddenly making life seem that bit more right, and that bit more fulfilling.
Some thirties take a long time to get to this inner awakening. There are those who ‘lie in’ until their forties or fifties, because it’s difficult to make change and to confront old habits that are not serving a purpose anymore. Others are ‘rudely awakened’ by marriage, children, money crises, depression, or other life changes. Yet others have a spiritual awakening of sorts, where they begin to question the whole purpose of life itself, the Universe, God, and what the hell we are doing here. Whatever the nature of the awakening or the crisis, it can be beneficial to seek help when change becomes necessary but is difficult, or when change feels as though it has been forced upon you without your consent.
If you need help to get through a Thirties or similar crisis, or if you would like to explore your life purpose in a confidential, safe and creative way, contact email@example.com or visit http://www.searchingforself.co.uk for more information about short and long term transpersonal therapy in South and Central London or via Skype.