Suffocation from Stuffocation

stuffocationIn an era of (desired) minimalism and the attraction of Marie Kondo, living life with less stuff has been suggested as a route to greater happiness.

Most of us appreciate a goal to reduce clutter in our homes and offices. There is a difference between having too much stuff and being a hoarder, mainly in terms of the types of items collected and not thrown away, as well the emotional ties that people have to various objects.

In this world of face paced consumerism people can buy much more stuff than they could in the past. Many people in the first world may feel burdened by the amount of possessions they have. You may be experiencing the overwhelming phenomena of stuffocation: the experience of stress caused by owning so many items that you don’t know how to use, store, or manage.

 

You might be suffering from stuffocation if you:

1.Regularly misplace items in your home or office

2.You buy items to replace items that you have misplaced or lost in your home

3.Rather than feel joy when you look at all of your possessions, you feel overwhelmed or a sense of dread.

4.You have difficulty moving around rooms in your home because of too much stuff.

5.Your cupboard, draws and cabinets are full to the brim

6. You find it hard to discard of items you now longer regularly use

7. You have to have an external storage unit

8. You’ve read more than 2 books on decluttering and this has not made a significant difference to your decluttering practices

9. You feel embarrassed when people come into your home because of the amount of disorganised stuff.

At this point I need to make a confession – I have experienced 9 out of 9 of those listed above.  I once brought a de-cluttering book to replace the de-cluttering book I had lost in my home. This blog is by me, and for me at the same time.

Part of the reason I believe we struggle to clear clutter is that we tend to address clutter from a practical approach rather than a psychological approach. De-cluttering books provide advice how to sort items and where to recycle items. Whilst this is very helpful, it can leave the feelings we have about things unaddressed.

Its worthwhile to take a moment to explore some of the psychology of stuff, the thoughts we may have and how to overcome this thinking. Essentially we need to understand that objects are NOT just objects, we need to understand our own personal meaning of ‘things’.

 

Fear of running out or not having enough.  If you feel you keep things, anything, cups, dresses, shoes because you may need them if you give them up, or at some point in the future may not have enough of this item ask yourself the following series of questions as a reflection.

Reflection: Did I once have “not enough” and was anxious or fearful of that time? Did I cope with my lack of things then? Can I gain faith that I might be able to get past that moment again? Reflect on these questions. Is it unlikely that you will suddenly become poor in the future and not have enough of the things you are keeping now? What could you do to ensure that you have enough finances to secure your future? Could you train in some small part time job that would give you enough money to buy a new cup, dress, book? The likelihood is yes.

Action: Count how many you have of certain items. Then decide what is a reasonable amount for you to have of that item, in reality. How many pairs of shoes do you really want to have displayed? How many books? Once you have set a cap of how many, start to sort out these items into those you love, versus those you like, and those that have no meaning at all. The last pile is the first for you to discard.

 

Saving for the future use.  Items that you are keeping for a future rainy day need to be considered in a slightly different way. If you’ve changed jobs from a corporate job to one where casual attire is acceptable you may have a wardrobe full of clothes that occupy space, but are not longer in use. Some questions that may help with your thoughts and feelings around these items might include

Reflection: Do I love these items, or am I scared to get rid of them? Could someone else benefit from these items – a person at the beginning of their career? Will I, change my lifestyle again and go back to that lifestyle if I have a choice? If not, can I let ½ of these items go? Can I give myself one small storage box, a draw, something little that I can keep some of these items – just in case, but not the amount of space they have now?

Action: Count up how many of these items fit under this criterion. How much space in your home is dedicated to storing this space? Can you put a value to the cost of the storage space used to save these items. For example, you can use the following comparative assessment of space value provided by Cushman and Wakefield’s annual assessment of costs of offices around the world, we can make a brief calculation of the cost to store such items.

citycompare

For example, in Hong Kong, the cost of a draw could be calculated to be USD 7.40 per day, that’s USD 2700 a year. Once you put a monetary value to storage, you can potentially force a relative value assessment. If it costs you (virtually) this much to save these clothes (or other items) does this change your perception of their value. Decide on a small storage you are willing to dedicate to maintain these items and prioritise what you love, what you like, from what simply fills space. Recycle those clothes or items that are not your favourites.

 

Feeling out of control, and not willing to let others help.  Do you feel embarrassed about your space? Have others offered to help you, but you reject their offers due to embarrassment? You can use this embarrassment to your advantage. If you feel out of control or ashamed about your stuff these reflections may help.

Reflection: What is the shame of having too much stuff? What do you think it says about you? What do you worry that other people might think of you? Is this true? How do you determine your value in life, how could your space reflect those values? Does having too much stuff fit with your perception and values that you hold for yourself? How can you work towards accepting yourself, with too much stuff, as well as without too much stuff?

Action: Use your embarrassment as a motivator. Tell your friends that you are working on eliminating clutter and would like their support. Define the support you might like. Perhaps you’d rather discuss what you can do with items rather than have physical support. Perhaps you can agree to invite friends over for an “after the clutter” celebration once you have some spaces sorted. Friends who use your clutter and stuffocation to judge you, may need to be told that their assessment of you hurts your feelings and makes it harder for you to start the process, even though you acknowledge that they want to help. Set yourself your deadline. Get going.

 

The joy of shopping and collecting – Sometimes we gain too much stuff because we like the process of acquisition too much. Is it possible you are addicted to buying more things, even when you don’t need them? If so, you might benefit from reading our blog on FOMO as this might be part of the issue. [Whilst there may be pleasure in shopping, and it may not greatly impact your financial situation, acquiring stuff as an activity is worth thinking about.  https://reddoor.hk/2017/04/25/fomo-read-this-now/

Reflections: What is it about shopping or acquiring items that brings you joy? Is there any other elements in your life, such as creativity or health, that could replace this activity in a more constructive manner? Do you shop to “keep up appearances”, and if so, what does it mean if you cannot achieve this goal? Are you worth less as a person?

add to basket

 

Action: Each time you want to buy a new item consider the following:

First of all, walk away, do not buy it immediately. Only those items that you continue to remember then become truly considered.

Before you do buy it, shop in your own cupboards to see if you have a similar item already. We often buy items that are remarkably similar to those we have already. Is this really significantly different? Would you consider to move one item OUT of your home in order to move this item IN? As with the processes above conduct some form of opportunity cost analysis before you buy. Is this the best way for me to utilise HKD500?

Ask yourself: Would I get more joy taking a friend out to lunch, or taking a cooking class with a friend instead? When we look at deathbed regrets, it never seems to be mentioned that people need to buy more. What they regret is spending time with people, having experiences, and pursuing their goals.

 

Holding onto precious memories – sometimes we have items from the past, items that remind us of special occasions or people, and we hold onto them. This might include old clothes, books, photos, artwork, and even old tools or jewellery. Compiling precious memories may lead to accidental clutter. Some reflective work that may help.

Reflections: are you keeping items as a way to show people that they are important, or were important? If you lose these items, will those loved ones be less important? In what other ways, besides holding onto items, could you celebrate items from ancestors or loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep special photos of your children, or their artwork. Do you need to keep all of these items to demonstrate your support and love? What other actions could you undertake to show your love for the child featured.

Actions:  Consider ways to store precious items in alternative storage format. For example, take photographs of children’s artworks and building a virtual album. For items from ancestors consider selecting your favourite items and framing them so that they are displayed beautifully. Then you can potentially pass the other items from the collection away. Old jewellery could be redesigned. Old clothes could be made into sentimental pillows.

I hope these reflections and activities help. I intend to give them all a chance and I hope you will too. Try to build a habit to be more mindful of they items you already have, their purpose, and their meaning. Embrace change from a positive angle. Praise yourself for letting go. There is no shame in moving forward and learning to live with less.

#stuffocation #worldrecyclingday #recycling #declutter #mentalhealthessentials #reddoor

#mentalhealth #hoarding #minimalism #mariekondo

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Colour yourself calm.


colouring pix

Colouring was probably an activity you enjoyed as a child. The current popularity of adult colouring books celebrates a return to encouraging our creativity, and embracing the sense of calmness that colouring can offer.

5 Reasons to colour:

Stress Reduction:  The mental focus which is required when colouring pictures – selecting colours, staying inside the lines, considering balance – can induce a meditative-like state. The heart rate is reduced and breathing becomes more calm. The repetitive nature of colouring calms even the busiest minds. Try it for just 10 minutes a day (with no distractions) and check how you feel afterwards.

Age Defying. Both physically and emotionally. It is good for you emotionally to play occasionally, and colouring is a form of such play. Additionally colouring helps to maintain manual dexterity, which is essential to growing older gracefully.

Boost Creativity. Break out of any creativity rut using colouring. Even if you do not think of yourself as an artist, simply selecting colours and designs helps to unleash a heightened connection to your ability to think creatively. Be ready for new ideas!

Brain Development. Colouring helps to develop greater skills of concentration and focus. Furthermore, both hemispheres of the brain are engaged, giving your brain a good ‘workout’.

Mini break. Colouring is not a form of art therapy, but it can be used in therapy as a tool to help calm and centre a person, even if you are feeling ok at the moment.  If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive tendencies, or difficulties managing stress, psychological research supports the use of colouring as a part of the therapeutic process.

You may also be wondering when is the best time to start colouring. There really isn’t a bad time to try colouring as a calming technique. I recommend that you give it a try the next time you are stressed, pressured, or feeling run down. At those times,  a colouring activity should help you to collect yourself. You might also consider colouring before your bedtime. Since watching TV and playing on devices has been associated with poorer sleep patterns, colouring could create a more relaxed mind-set, setting you up for a deeper, more refreshing night’s sleep.

I challenge you to try this – take up colouring for 10 minutes each day, and see what regular colouring achieve for you.  

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Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.

Understanding depression

Being sad is a normal reaction to difficult challenges in your life. Often the sadness lasts a few days, and then lifts. Sometimes the sadness does not dissipate. Depression is a persistent condition that lasts for more than 2 weeks. Women are more likely to suffer from depression than men.

Some of the symptoms of depression include the following. These signs or symptoms may have lasted more than a couple of weeks.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feeling mood
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Perpetual feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Difficulty focusing, remembering, and inability to make decisions
  • Somatic aches or pains, – headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
  • Feeling physically heavy and moving more slowly
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or even just wishing to not be alive anymore.

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Depression can interrupt your ability to live a regular life. It can interfere with your ability to work, study, parent, socialise and live a full life.

You can’t just snap out of depression. Depression is caused by the interaction of several internal (thoughts, hormones, diet) and external (stress, expectations) factors. Sometimes we hope that if one can just “focus on being happy” our friends and family will be able to move beyond their depressed state. In addition to your empathetic and persistent friendship, most people who have experienced persistent depression need treatment.

Treatments for depression can include medical and talk therapy. Treatments affect each individual differently. There is no “one-size-fits-all” plan for treatment. It may take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best.

Medical interventions usually include anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications.

Many clients are hesitant to take these medications because they fear that they will become dependent on these medicines. It is not an easy decision to undertake. Talk to your GP about these medications to see if you can explore some of these fears. If you have tried behavioural and psychological approaches with no success, you might need to consider medications to start kick start your recovery.

How counselling or psychotherapy can help.

Different psychotherapists use different approaches to help resolve the issues that their clients want help with. Here are some of the most common approaches that counsellors and psychologists in Hong Kong use with clients trapped in depression.

CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy . IN CBT the therapists works to explore the relationship between a person’s thoughts, behaviours and feelings. We look at finding patterns in thoughts or behaviours and explore if these patterns help or restrict your development.

Collaboratively the therapist and the client work together to develop constructive ways of thinking and reacting to situations so that alternatives can be found if that would improve your experience. For example with Depression we might discuss the types of thoughts that you have around certain relationships or activities to see if you can challenge or change those patterns of behaviour.

For example, many individuals suffering from depression can see a given situation through a lens which highlights all the catastrophic elements that could occur. Together we would try to figure out where these perceptions of risk originated, and how we could challenge the likelihood of catastrophise occurring.

Psychoanalytic therapy – Originally based on the work of Sigmund Freud, modern psychoanalytic therapy has evolved significantly. Simply put modern psychoanalytic therapy looks at what components of life represent including dreams, free flowing associations, understanding projection of feelings. The goal is to hope patients gain insight as to how their past experiences informs their present behaviour. In regard to treating depression a psychoanalytical counsellor might help explore feelings and thoughts that keep clients trapped inside the depressive state. For example, a person may feel powerless to take charge of practices that they know might help them feel better, but be trapped inside their recurring experience of being abandoned and powerless from their childhood.

DBT – Dialectic behaviour therapy. DBT is abridged from CBT, but focuses more on emotional regulation. Skills such a mindfulness, clear and calm communication and learning to tolerate difficult situations are a focus.

For example, DBT for depression could focus on staying present in today’s goals rather than racing ahead trying to solve tomorrow’s problems. Or when other people disappoint us, learning to tolerate and explore these feelings of upset, and work to clearly communicate our needs to the other party involved.

ACT – Acceptance and Commitment therapy. ACT is another therapy abridged from CBT, but whilst CBT works by helping one identify and change their negative thoughts and behaviours, ACT helps people accept that we can learn to get comfortable with some of discomfort of life. The central tenant of ACT is that the only way out of pain is through. Therefore ACT is sometimes used in situations where a positive outcome may never be possible – e.g. with serious illness. It isn’t just about sitting still. As clients explore situations, they can become less agitated or worried about them. For example, when dealing with clients with depression we can discuss some of the more worrying thoughts that they believe might happen, or happen again for them. We consider what individuals need to move towards, and consider if they can tolerate not moving away from unpleasant thoughts.

Teens and Drugs – some thoughts for HK parents.

Challenging authority, testing limits, exploring intellectual, emotional, geographical and physical boundaries are part of the teen experience.  It is normal for teens to want to expand their world, including engaging in some risk-taking behaviour, we particularly worry that they may fall into the world of drug use, and get stuck there.

Overnight your, previously,  polite happy child may appear transformed into a rebellious, sulking, angry teen. Sometimes these changes are also associated with the development of emotional and behavioural challenges. These problems are not easy to identify, evaluate, and treat.  From my perspective, the practice of counselling or psychological intervention is a combination of science, trained skills, and sometimes, a bit of magic.

Keep an eye on your teen. In general, we are concerned about teenagers who have been experiencing some of the following feelings for a couple of weeks. This is not cast in stone. If you are concerned about your child – take them to a doctor, psychologist or counsellor to help get support for them, and yourself.

Drug use is one of the many concerns parents might have for their teen. In relation to drug use, you can build from the checklist above, and include a few more signs (detailed in the box). Remember nothing is a firmly established pattern. This list is just for indication.

One sign that I would particularly take care to explore is the keep an eye on the peer group of your teenager. You want to be aware of where your teen is going, and with whom. If your teen has a new friend who is not interested to meet you, and your child will not allow you to check in that friends’ parents, you can consider becoming concerned.

We need to balance a desire to control your child. You don’t need to know everything, but it is okay to know each of your child’s friends’ first and last names and have a contact number or email for their parents.

Whilst some risk taking behaviour is normal for teens, exposure to substances is quite likely for international teens in Hong Kong. 

Alcohol consumption is common among teens at international schools in Hong Kong. It is estimated that nearly half the young people in Hong Kong will have consumed alcohol before they are 21(1)  If you spend an evening outside in Lan Kwai Fong, Stanley, Cyberport, outside Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong, and in Wanchai (among many) you will see teens who have been drinking. If you attend big outdoor events such as Cockenflap and the Hong Kong Sevens, you will see that teens in Hong Kong do indeed consume alcohol. Many parents hold a fairly relaxed view of alcohol consumption, but I would claim that it is definitely worth keeping a close eye on your child when you know they drink.

Many parents hold a less accepting view towards drug use. The following substances are some of the drugs that teens in Hong Kong have been known to use.

Most drug use happens in secret. The Narcotics Division of the Security Bureau (1) regularly conducts surveys of school and university level students in Hong Kong checking on tobacco, alcohol and drug use among young people. In a “have you ever” style format measuring if you have consumed over your “lifetime”.

https://www.nd.gov.hk/en/survey_of_drug_use_20-21.html

Their study is subject to a number of methodological tendencies to underrepresent substance use, but its good to have some numbers to talk about at all. According to their lifetime figures 7.4% of under 21-year-olds have consumed tobacco products, 2.5% (17300 students) had consumed drugs and 47.5% have consumed alcohol. Alcohol seems to be the substance of choice for teens.

It’s important that these numbers are underrepresented. Teens do not consider vaping to be the same as using tobacco, but vapes have many of the same health consequences. The survey relies on teens being honest about their substance use, but this is unlikely. Additionally, the survey catches teens at school, not those who have already been exited from the education system, which could leave those teens even more vulnerable to engage in regular or chaotic drug use.

Certain substances are more addictive than others. Certain people are more vulnerable to substances use disorders than others. Whilst no one plans to get hooked on drugs once they have their first vape – no one plans to fall into the gateway of drug use escalation. However, it is important that many people use drugs casually, or use regularly, for a period of time and then stop and don’t use again. Of course, a proportion of those regular users become more chaotic and addicted, and stuck in their use of drugs. Sometimes drug literature divides the world of drug use into non users and addicts. This ignores teens who use, and then stop.

Why do teens use drugs?

Feeling good: Ask any teen using drugs why they use drugs and they will look at you like you have an orange for your head. “They feel GOOD”. When we ignore that drug use feels good, for a while, we address the wrong things in recovery.

All better now:  In addition to feeling good, teens often seem to support the self-mediation theory of drug use. Essentially pain or intolerable feelings (including boredom) can be escaped (temporarily) through the consumption of drugs. When we work with teens about these associations we work on 2 aspects – one to improve their tolerance of the pain or feelings that drive their desire to self-medicate. Additionally, we try to get them to look at the new pain/ feelings that the drugs may have introduced. In my experience of working recovery with teens I notice that teens and young adults often experience anxiety that they believe is being treated by their substance choice, but when we explore the relationship more closely, the substance may be maintaining those negative sensations, or even be the instigator or anxiety or depression. I see this with the use of weed and alcohol in particular.

You the man: There are social status benefits to using drugs. My teens tell me., “Every person in my year is smoking weed”. Why would a teen want to be the one who stands out as uncool or not fit. It. There is a lot of peer pressure to use. If your teen is linked into the supply of drugs there is significant social status being associated with being able to “hook you up”. This is part of the appeal for drugs.

Bulletproof: there is a strong belief among teens that drugs are not such a big deal. “Weed is legal in many states or in Canada” you will be told. “I can stop whenever I want to”. Teens do not believe that drugs are a big deal. As a parent, your attitude to drugs can make a significant difference to your child’s use of drugs. Authoritative parents respond to their children’s needs and hold their children to high standards of behaviour, whilst modelling positive mental health practices, are in a better position to help their children. 

Please understand I am not supporting drug consumption or endorsing it. I am simply acknowledging that it happens and, to teens, they think it makes sense.

What teens need to know.

Where does this leave us as practitioners and parents? If we can manage our reaction to our teens interest in drugs in a calm and non-judgemental way, we can have much more practical conversations around drugs.

There are many, unhelpful, myths about drug use, including that drug users only come from bad homes, or are bad kids. These judgements do not help us to protect our teens or support them in making better choices.

What does help it to talk with your teen about using substances without being too heavy handed. Notice I used the words TALK rather than LECTURE. Try to appreciate that they are trying to do their best, and have probably been offered, and refused substances many times already. Allow them to tell you what drugs they are exposed to without running into solutions mode. Listen.

That said, here are some points and conversations you might like to lead when you are talking about drug use, and choices to try drugs. 

It’s bad: One thing that teens need to know is that substances can cause damage to your ability to learn and to your brain in general.  Neuroscientific research indicates that smoking pot is not inconsequential. Whilst one puff may not cause long term memory loss, regular consumption of alcohol and marijuana can affect memory and focus (2). You may need to be prepared for the arguments about how weed is not as bad as alcohol, if it was dangerous, it wouldn’t be legal and such types of arguments. In reality, many legal medications and substances are not good for us. Your teen may point the finger at your use of alcohol or other substances. Are you prepared to model honesty, and a willingness to consider change in your own habits as part of a transparent conversation with your teen? It is valuable for teens to see us trying to review our decisions, look at improving ourselves, and even modelling our own recovery as a way to help them understand that this is possible.  

Who knows the risk. Teens do not believe that they are at risk of becoming addicted. No addict ever started taking substances with the view to becoming an addict. We need to be aware of the emotional and familial risks that greater the risk of our teens falling prey to addiction rather than being a casual user. It would be valuable for your to discuss any family history of addiction and other mental health issues (impulsivity, depression, anxiety, anger management).

What else could work (better)?: The medication addiction argument suggests that teens wanting to move away from intolerable feelings drives the craving to use. It is important to discuss with your teen the states and situations that they find intolerable. Is there something else they can do when they experience these intolerable situations. A large part of recovery programs is helping teens find those activities that help them better manage their stress, anxiety, isolation, boredom, and sadness.

Liar, liar: Substances lie to us. In his sober living book, Craig Beck, implies that Alcohol lied to him (3) Alcohol told him that it was thing that made him interesting, that made his boredom go away, that alcohol was his refuge from strong feelings. If alcohol lies to you, then weed completely gaslights you!


Like a gaslighting person, substances seem to build a system of beliefs that undermine your ability to break free from the substance. For example, my clients who use weed often use it because they are anxious. When they are able to stop using weed they realise it was the weed that was making them anxious. Weed doesn’t treat mental illness, it maintains anxiety and sometimes even allows other mental issues to take root. But being addicted to a substance is tricky. Our addictions and preferred substances lie to us.

Talking with our teens about drugs is important and necessary. We may not be able to steer our kids to stay in the never use drugs segment of society, but one use, or even casual use, doesn’t brand them as addicts, beyond hope or as bad people. Holding positive regard for our teens, whilst expecting them to be responsible to reach their best, really does help.

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A special note about drug recovery support at RED DOOR

From April 2023  Red Door will start running weekly recovery support group for Hong Kong teens wanting to address their recreational drug use.

The first of its kind, RED DOOR Recovery (RDR),  will be aimed at teens 14-18 attending International or English speaking schools in Hong Kong who wish to, or need to, curb their drug taking behaviour. The programme will be lead by a counsellor/psychologist and a SMART facilitator. The programme will be focused on recovery behaviours, be peer support focused and develop out of the SMART recovery programme with local adaption. Run on Thursday afternoons at RED DOOR Counselling Hong Kong 4:30-6pm.  Parental support programme to be offered on bi-monthly basis. HKD 300 per session per teen attendee. Contact Angela at angelaw@reddoor.hk for more information.

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References

1 –https://www.nd.gov.hk/en/survey_of_drug_use_20-21.html

2 The teenage brain

3. Alcohol lied to me.

https://www.amazon.com/Alcohol-Lied-to-Me-New-Edition-audiobook/dp/B00HWHMWNW/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1TKXAOCEDF0FP&keywords=alcohol+lied+to+me&qid=1677220520&sprefix=alcohol+lied+t%2Caps%2C1312&sr=8-1

Practicing gratitude.

Practicing gratitude will help develop a more positive mindset which will help be more practiced in seeking the pleasing elements of your life, leading to a greater sense of satisfaction in general.

Practicing gratitude regularly, either through journaling or keeping a gratitude jar, helps to develop the habit of gratitude. When we practice gratitude regularly, we start to mentally contrast negative news stories and voices around us, looking for the positive element rather than amplifying the negative.

Practicing gratitude is associated with a stronger immune system, as well as more positive emotions and happiness. Its easy to be grateful over the big things, a bonus, the birth of a child, and a promotion.

The real benefit for individuals in practicing gratitude over the smaller things – a sunny day, a successful cake, a kind gesture from a friend, technology that works without trouble. That is where the magic happens. Practicing gratitude helps us to build a bank of positive elements in our lives to review when we feel like we have nothing positive to live for, or be happy about.

Consider the following exercise – the gratitude jar.

I particularly like this exercise because both adults and children can use it Take a jar and label it your gratitude jar. If you have children, you might like to decorate this jar with stickers and plastic gemstones. Once the jar is “complete” you can start to fill it with daily comments of things that you are grateful for. In moments of despair, or even as a weekly mental retreat, take out all of the notes and remember the things you have to be grateful for, and the darkness or negativity can be pushed aside.

Your thoughts shape your worth.

The term self-esteem is a broad construct. When we explore a person’s self-esteem we measure, in general the positive regard that they hold for themselves, including the acceptance of one’s weaknesses, one’s strengths and a perception of your equality to others.

Individuals that have positive, not over inflated, self-esteem are more compassionate to others, able to forgive their own mistakes, hold themselves more accountable, and set realistic goals. External circumstances do not define their value. In general, they know what they are worth.

In counselling when we see a person with poor self-esteem, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We need to determine the genesis of our client’s self-esteem before we work on creating a customised intervention to improve their self-esteem.

The creation of your self-esteem can be shaped by your thinking style, the messages you received as a child from your family, your current acceptance of how you look, achievements and disappointments in your life, messages received from friends and within romantic relationships, the information that you feed yourself on a daily basis (eg social media) and the challenges that you have been tasked to overcome so far in your life. . Helping clients identify the drivers of their self-concept is interesting, and complex work.

Take a moment to consider your self-esteem. How would you rate your current self-esteem? Positive? Weak? Inflated? You can consider  an online assessment to gain a snapshot of your self-esteem. A simple assessment can be gained via the following link from the anxiety centre website. Take the test. How did you do?  

If your self esteem was positive, well done. You can read on to ensure that you maintain a robust, reflective self- esteem. If the assessment indicated that your self-esteem was weak, could you consider the following reflections and exercises to help you rebuild a positive self- esteem.

The genesis of our self-esteem.

Think about how you were raised, how your family spoke to you, or treated you as a child. Did you feel accepted? Did you readily receive love from your parents? Do you feel you had to perform tasks, or hide parts of yourself, in order for you to feel accepted by your parents? Was your home as safe place for your, or rather a source of fear or chaos? All of those elements will influence the value you give yourself. It is not surprising that children who believe they needed to perform extremely well in tests at school encounter emotional difficulty accepting career development setbacks as adults. These individual’s  “value” is attached to achievement rather than self-acceptance.

The teen years seem to have a strong impact on that adult’s later self-esteem. Success in friendships can help bolster ones’ self-concept. The experience of bullying, teasing or exclusion seem to leave long term scars on ones’ perception of self-worth. “How can I be valuable as a person, if people chose to treat me so badly?”. When our teens encounter such experiences, it is extremely valuable to help them talk out such experiences, potentially with a counsellor if you lack the confidence to manage this empathetically.

An interesting source of nutrients, and toxins, to our self-esteem is the consumption of social media. If one explores the values endorsed by Instagram, women are exposed to a plethora of contradictory positions – have a juicy ass and no butt at all; in order to be valued you should have a boyfriend; but be also be completely ok being single, you should be confident and willing to speak up, but be polite and make people comfortable; be ambitious about your career but also be willing to prioritise the need for rest and time out. Perfection on the internet is not only impossible, it’s insane.

A large component of your self-esteem is attached to how you process the world, and if you are strongly influenced by thinking filters.

How your thoughts influence your self-esteem

It is possible to change your thoughts. A famous psychologist, Albert Ellis, identified a plethora of irrational beliefs that we develop as part of the way we are raised, see the world, and believe in ourselves and other people. These beliefs are like a pair of glasses, which can interfere with the way that we see situations. When we see a situation though faulty filters the result can be self-hatred and diminished self-worth

You can help yourself and remove your faulty filters by creating a constructive dispute with yourself, or even have a counsellor lead this discussion for you. The dialogue will depend on the filters that you use most frequently. Experiencing faulty filters is quite common, if you discover you have been experiencing faulty filters, you can change the view.

Black-and-white-thinking.

This type of thinking occurs when you look at situations in a polarized way – situations, people, activities are either good or bad, nothing in between. Most situations are neither complete disaster or beyond fantastic, often situation have both good and bad aspects. Most people have some attributes that you find challenging, but this doesn’t make these people totally bad or good.

Black and white thinking. When people wear black-and-white-thinking filters they can respond in an inflexible way to challenges – “I didn’t get an A in that test and now my future is ruined “or “I submitted that assignment but I made an error in the first paragraph so the whole article is now rubbish”.

In particular people who have black-and-white-thinking in relation to people find themselves being particularly judgmental towards themselves – seeing themselves as either a winner or a loser in a situation. This can erode their resilience. Every setback can become a tragedy, rather than a minor bump in the road of life.

Shoulding or Musting expectations.

It is irrational to believe that most things are absolutely necessary. Believing that acts should be performed in a particular way, at a specific time, or in an exact order, creates a tyranny of should – a condition where you live life dictated by a list of thoughts which are not really rational.

Whilst everyone has lots of things that they should (or could) be doing, some beliefs are irrational in their detail and in their believed consequences. For example, if everything needs to be perfect, this creates a lot of pressure on a person to perform a task to a (sometimes) unrealistic standard. Believing that you need to be the perfect student, parent, worker, lover, or be in control of all events in your life, be slim and attractive at all times, always be interesting, always have a friction free family – is unrealistic and unrelenting on your self-esteem.

You may start to doubt yourself: feeling like a failure because you can not maintain your own (self-imposed) impossible standards,

You may lose the confidence to start new tasks (procrastination) – too frozen in fear to start a project without already being an expert, or knowing you will be perfect at it.

Jumping to negative conclusions.

We all have the tendency to occasionally jump to conclusions and this may influence our self-esteem. We may assume that someone deliberately performed an activity that hurt our feelings, or event assume and intent to their inaction (e.g. they don’t like me). In these situations, limited information or evidence can be used to support negative conclusions. This may be the case when we fail to get success at work, thinking that others are not supportive, when they are sometimes just too busy or not focused on our priority.

This type of faulty filter can lead to inaccuracies regarding our perception of people and situations. If we attribute our self-worth to the perceived view that we believe that others hold of us, our self-esteem can be impacted.

Overgeneralizing.

Overgeneralizing is a special type of jumping to thinking that involves jumping to conclusions – both negative and positive. Overgeneralizing is often reflected in our language choices – we use extreme frequency terms to describe behaviours – “they ALWAYS forget”, “Things NEVER go right for me in love relationships, EVERYBODY is happy except for me”. “Now that I am separated, ALL my married friends won’t want to see me”. Occasionally we may even do this after a single instance – one rejection letter leading to the assumption “I will never get a job”.

This type of faulty filter can impact our self-worth, especially if we attribute our perception of self to the beliefs, real or otherwise, we believe others have of us.

Personalising.

When we personalise we feel responsible for events or situations that are not our fault, or we assume that those events are our fault. It can lead to us feeling offended when it isn’t necessary. If a friend ignores your text may not mean that you’ve offended them, instead it may mean they are busy. They may not be trying to offend us, or even be having an emotional reaction to something we have done.

Personalization can be a symptom of co-dependency in relationships. I once had a grumpy boss, and many of us who reported to him walked around on eggshells, torturing ourselves over what we had done wrong to upset him. Rather than wasting valuable energy on this worry, it might have been more constructive to let him have his time being grumpy (after all his emotions are his responsibility) and get on with the work that needed to be done.

If you have performed an act, either selfishly or unwittingly, where another person was hurt. You can take responsibility for your role in a situation, and apologize or try to make amends, but leave it to that situation. Whilst we can take responsibility for our own behaviour and thoughts, we do not need to take responsibility for the choices of others. Our own behaviour determines our worth, not the emotional responses of others.

Filtering

People with poor self-esteem often filter information in a way that maintains their poor self-esteem. Imagine you are in a group of people and each is providing feedback on your work. Nine of the 10 people say you did a wonderful job. One person says they thought your contribution wasn’t as good as they needed from you on that occasion. Which do you remember – the 9 positive remarks, or the one negative. That is filtering.

Filtering becomes a threat to our self -esteem if you use this faulty thinking style frequently. In the era of the internet where people can feel more willing to troll other people and say horrible things online, selecting what you choose to believe and reinforce as regards your sense of self, is extremely important. This is especially true for teens who use internet vehicles to test reactions to their world views – and perhaps do not yet have the resilience to rebuff negative feedback.

Comparing

Comparing is such an influential thinking filter on our self-esteem that I have included a full blog on this topic.

https://reddoor.hk/2017/10/23/comparison-a-one-way-ticket-to-misery/

It is common to consider our own attractiveness, status, success, and personal worth relative to others. Comparing oneself constantly can become quite negative, especially when we assume elements about the other person and ourselves. For example, thinking a person who gets a better pay rise than you is an overall better person than you is not only unrealistic, it is unproductive.

Labelling.

We all make mistakes or act foolishly sometimes. When we label ourselves, rather than placing the label onto our behaviour,  we diminish our self-worth. For example, if you made a mistake on a report you could say, “I made a mistake”, or you could label “I’m so stupid”. The latter response does nothing for your self-esteem. Acknowledge mistakes and bad choices as part of life, that can be forgiven.

It is also illogical to label others, on the basis of one inference or observation. One fight with a colleague does not make her a “bitch”. When we label others, we not only diminish them, we provide rationalization for further retaliation, “its okay to do xyz, because she is a bitch”. This is clearly not rational, and can often become prejudicial. Believing in these labels can erode our self-worth, as well as our regard for other people.

In counselling we work to help our clients capture, explore and refute these thoughts. When we start to let go of these thought patterns it is likely we will be able to release ourselves from negative self-talk that impacts our self-esteem.

In the attached blog I provide advice how you can change the channel on some of these thought patterns. Please consider to engage in these reflections and exercises.

If you feelings of low self-worth persist please consider to work with a mental health professional such as you will find at RED DOOR. #selfesteem #catastrophising   #commonthinkingerrors  #faultythinking #blackandwhitethinking  #comparison  

Groundhog day in relationships – having the same argument again and again, and again…..

In English, we use the term Groundhog Day to describe a situation in which events that have happened before happen again, in what seems to be, exactly the same way.

Most couples fight. Especially when they are tired or stressed. Couples often find that they have the same arguments repeatedly. These cycles can be broken but exploring the types of problems involved, the conflict cycles of the partnership, aspects within the communication styles of the couple, and activities that build positive regard within the couple. It’s not easy to stop the pattern, but it is possible.

Today we will talk about two of these aspects. The type of problem, and the cycle of conflict and how you can overcome. Links to articles below address building positive regard and we will write more on ways to improve communication in your relationship in the up coming months.

Maybe it’s the problem

You need to spend some time stepping back from your relationship to ascertain what kind of problems you are fighting about and if these problems really can be solved, or rather require more interpersonal respect and understanding.

When thinking about the types of arguments that you have in your relationship it is helpful to consider if the problem is solvable or perpetual.

Solvable problems are usually attached to specific situations, for example household chores, timings around events, selecting a restaurant. These problems are different from perpetual problems because a solution can be found and maintained and there is not a deeper meaning behind each of the partners’ positions.

All couples have perpetual problems. These problems are due to more fundamental differences in beliefs or personalities. These may be the same issues as some couples may experience as solvable problems, but they are not solvable in your couple relationship. Rather you are likely to return to them again and again. If you feel like you are “spinning your wheels” on a particular problem, it may not just be perpetual, it may also be gridlocked.

Most perpetual problems are unsolvable. Instead of looking for a solution you may need to explore what is driving you to hold your own position so strongly. Often perpetual issues are about really about  differences in beliefs and/or personalities within the relationship, not the topic being discussed.  

Cyclical patterns of conflict communications

If you are having the same argument repeatedly, always ending in the same outcome, regardless of the number of times you have tried to tackle the issues, you are quite possibly utilizing a negative cycle of conflict communication.

You can identify your type of cycle by filling in the gaps when you ask  yourselves, “When we talk about challenging topics, the more  I _______, the more you _____”.  When performing this evaluation, don’t project your feelings onto your partner. Don’t mindread what your partner is thinking, or why they do what they do. This is rarely, if not never, helpful.

The following three types of conflict cycles are often experienced by couples.

Find the Bad Guy.

In this model of conflict each of the partners tries to highlight the faults of their partner, in a “You’re the problem, You are at fault” style of communication. This practice usually insights strong reaction in both relationship members, and as accusations fly back and forth, the degree of antagonism escalates.

Each partner is desperate to be “right” and the relationship suffers. If this describes your conflict style, please recognize that if you win not only does your partner loose, the relationship loses. To completely break this cycle of contempt and criticism each partner needs to feel safe to express their vulnerability as part of the fix for the relationship.

Pursue and Withdraw

One of the most common patterns of communication in relationships, both heterosexual and same sex, is the pursue and withdraw cycle.

In this cycle one partner tries to raise a concern as they search for closeness in the relationship. Their intention is often to broach a perceived distance in the relationship. Unfortunately they berate, accuse, villainize, blame or lecture their partner rather than create a safe, soft space to discuss the issue.

In response, the other partner, starts to pull away and clam up – i.e. withdraw. They may be anxious and are keen to fix the situation but instead of talking they go silent, leave or shut down.

The more the pursuer moves forward, the more the withdrawer moves away. This leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied. This cycle benefits from outside help, particularly in the form of couples counselling. In a safe environment both parties are encouraged to understand and acknowledge their roles and be willing to share vulnerability to discuss their feelings and desires.

Avoid-Avoid

This is the rarest couple we see in counselling, but the one who most needs couples counselling.

In this model both parties in a relationship avoid conflict. Neither partner is looking to reconnect with their partner. They don’t fight, they simply withdraw and ignore any points of conflict in the hope that it will go away on its own. Unfortunately, this is destructive to the relationship.

Sometimes people are proud, and will even brag, that they never fight. By avoiding expressing themselves mean that both of the partners are checked out and at risk of becoming detached.

Counselling needs to be considered in a safe non-judgmental environment so that potential conflicts can be properly brought to light, feelings and desires explored and validated.

If you are in this model of conflict communications, I would recommend that you use the conjoint couple’s model where there are two counsellors to two clients. This model more actively supports each individual in the relationship. You can read more in the paragraph below.

Do you want to break these cycles in your relationship. First of all observe the pattern. Below we have two other articles on how to communicate and build more positive regard, plus an article detailing great books to improve your relationship on your own. At some point in time, you might like to consider couples counselling. I have included some information on our conjoint couples therapy approach that is available at RED DOOR. We have 4 couple counsellors at RED DOOR waiting to help you break the cycle.

Other RED DOOR articles to improve your relationship.

Other mechanisms to improve your relationship.

The best books you help you improve your relationship.  

The advantage of Conjoint therapy in Couples Counselling. The model we use at RED DOOR.

At RED DOOR we use the conjoint couples therapy approach. In Conjoint therapy two therapists work with the couple during couples’ sessions and then one counsellor will meet with you for any one-on-one sessions.

This is an advanced method of couples therapy.

Since there are two therapists in the room there is less chance of either of the partners feeling blamed, or favoured. If you have felt that any previous couple therapist sided with you, or your partner, you will appreciate the objectivity and inclusion that this model supplies.

There are a number of therapeutic options available in the conjoint model including pairing vs individual counsellors , role play and modelling of problems and techniques, as well as  break-out sessions within couples sessions (which is helpful if one client becomes flooded, or some negotiations are required) .

This model also keeps the therapist moving sessions forward constructively. Often if sessions become heated much of a therapist’s attention is moved towards “traffic control”. Traffic control whilst necessary, is not the goal of therapy. Therapy is to help blockages in communication and find the right tools and skills to help remedy the problems. Having a second therapist on hand helps keep the therapeutic goal on track.

In conjoint-couples therapy you each have someone who understands each of your perspectives in the room. The team of counsellors work with you, and together to formulate a plan to understand and overcome the challenges in your relationship. At RED DOOR, we use a Gottman informed approach, but will also include emotionally focused therapy, CBT and narrative therapy tools.

Because two therapists are involved there are cost implications. At RED DOOR we try to manage this by asking each of the therapist to reduce their standard fee for the sessions. ON some occasions, when we have a suitable counsellor-in-training, we can offer a significant discount.

Surviving gaslighting.

The term “gaslighting” was named as the 2022 Word-of-the-Year by the Merriam-Webster indicating how popular it has become to explore if you are experiencing this phenomenon.

The psychological manipulation of one person usually over another extended period of time. The gaslighter tries create circumstances that make the gaslightee question the validity of their personal thoughts, perceptions of reality, or memories. Gaslightees are left confused, lacking in confidence and start to lose their sense of agency in the relationship. Over time the gaslightee becomes more and more uncertain of themselves and develops greater dependency on the perpetrator.

Gaslighting happens when someone manipulates you into thinking your perspective or account of an experience is different than the way you said it happened, for the purpose of undermining your position in the relationship. There are a number of techniques that gaslighters use to create these circumstances.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and mental manipulation that may leave one questioning their perception of reality. If you have been gaslight repeatedly you may will feel you are wrong in almost all arguments.

Gaslighting doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships — it can happen with your family, your friends, your colleagues and, even, your boss. There is also research on institutional gaslighting, particularly when people report misconduct.

Who becomes a gaslighter?

Sometimes gaslighters are aware of what they are doing. Many are not aware. They are threatened by lack of control, protecting their ego, or just wanting to maintain the upper hand in a relationship. Because of their anxiety and fears, they may not have explored the reason for their behaviour. Regardless if they are motivated by malevolence or angst, it is not a healthy behaviour.

You will often see the term gaslighting used in association with another term – narcissism. Narcissism is a personality trait that people occasionally display. It involves expressing a grandiose sense of self-importance, obsession with power and success, a sense of entitlement, and a constant need for praise and attention. Narcissists lack empathy and are often quick tempered. As such they frequently use manipulative techniques, such as gaslighting, to take advantage of others. Whilst not all people who gaslight are narcissists, narcissists almost always use gaslighting as one of their tools to control people in their lives. 

Gaslighters sometimes meet the criterial for narcissistic personality disorder  or other personality disorders where control of others is a key component (Such as antisocial personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder)

What Gaslighters have in common is that they demand loyalty (and punish disloyalty), are emotionally sensitive, wear people down over time, misrepresent themselves often (lie), and refuse personal responsibility.

If you have started a relationship with a Narcissist there will be a few red flags you may watch out for including possessiveness by your new partner, love bombing, talking only about themselves, rushing into a more “committed relationship”, a history of cheating, and lack of respect for your personal boundaries.

Who is vulnerable of becoming a gaslightee?

Individuals who are people pleasers, are overly empathetic, are conflict avoidant, seeking approval of others instead of relying on their own self-confidence, and generally have self-doubt are more likely to be the victims of gaslighting. If these traits describe you, you may need to work on yourself through self help programmes, counselling groups or individual counselling in order to build better boundaries and protect your mental health. Much of the time, the victims of gaslighting are women.

How does gaslighting wear one down?

  • Gaslighting exploits any existing self-doubt about your capabilities as well as past trauma and experiences. You may start to feel that you are too compromised od “damaged” in order to be able to see reality clearly.  
  • Gaslighting exhausts a victim’s internal resources so they you develop a sense of learned helplessness and regularly question your thoughts and actions. .
  • Gaslighting depletes individuals of a stable sense of self-worth. You lose sight of your sense of agency in the world.
  • Gaslighting manufactures insecurities and fears that never existed, some of these fears and worries are not real, rather they were planted by the gaslighter.
  • Gaslighting causes the survivor to investigate whether he or she has done something wrong, looking for evidence to support their view, or refute that of the gaslighter. The gaslighter will negate or ignore any results and often become angry at the action of being investigation at all.
  • Gaslighting sets up survivors to fail no matter what they do.
  • Gaslighting creates a fear of retaliation for victims speaking out, because each time a gaslightee tries to assert themselves, there is criticism and punishment.

The long-term impact on your mental health of being gaslight.

People who are exposed to long term gaslighting are likely to experience problematic degrees of anxiety and depression, stress (even trauma). They may have become completely isolated from the people who would normally help them reality check their circumstances. They will have a week sense of identity, have become trained to become easily overwhelmed, and be full of self-doubt. They often start to gaslight themselves -internalised gaslighting – preventing them from being able to assess situations appropriately. These are many of the same long term mental health symptoms of emotional abuse.

Gaslighters use a plethora of tools to challenge the reality of people they wish to control.

Projection – instead of accepting responsibility for their bad behaviour, a gaslighter might accuse the gaslightee of the exact behaviour they have been accused of. For example, “Stop thinking that I would hook up with that girl, you are just saying this to cover up the fact that you’ve been cheating on me”

Side stepping or “what-about-ism” – the gaslighter will actively dodge the evidence that highlights their poor behaviour, and may even throw you off the discussion by introducing an erroneous wrongful act as a counter-point. For example, “How dare you suggest that I lied about where I was, its not like you care about me. You didn’t even make me a cup of coffee this morning!”.

Conditional or incomplete apology – an apology that is either not an apology or is an apology used only to make a further request. The most common example is, “I’m sorry you feel that way”. This actually implies that you are the problem, rather than their behaviour.

Triangulation – Gaslighters like to enrol other parties to reinforce their messaging to you. This happens in particular if you have tried to separate from them. For example, they may encourage a third party to talk to you to explain how hurt they are by your action. Those third-party players are sometimes referred to as “flying monkeys”

Displacing or diverting – a gaslighter may blame their bad behaviour on you. For example, “I wouldn’t have stayed out so late if you were nicer to come home to”

Trivialise – a gaslighter may belittle your experience to minimise the impact of their actions. For example, “I think you are overreacting, its just not a big deal”.

Denial – a gaslighter will pretend that events didn’t occur or say they forget them.

Withholding-  a gaslighter may completely refuse to engage in a discussion. For example, “You are trying to confuse me, I am not getting into this with you”.

Disorienting – a gaslighter challenging the whole discussion because of inconsistencies in one aspect of your account. For example, “”Make your mind up, did we fight about this on Tuesday or Wednesday, or did you just imagine the whole thing”.

Countering – challenge your memory or account of events in totality. For example, “Your memory is so stuffed up, I don’t think you see this anywhere near correctly”.

Splitting – a gaslighter can weaponize other person’s real, or imagined, account of you to wear you down. For example, “I didn’t want to believe Mary when she said you were oversensitive, but it seems she was right”.

Comparing – in an argument a gaslighter may compare you to other people, often those you admire, to imply that your challenger of them makes you look bad. For example, “Why can’t you be more like Jean, she lets Mike go out anytime he wants without making such a drama”.

Stereotyping and Shaming – a gaslighter may blame the gaslightee for a situation as part of generalisations about their race, colour, religion. For example, “Are you on your period, you sound like a woman suffering from PMS”  

It may not feel like you have a chance to stay sane when bombarded  by these communication manipulations. The pathway back to positive mental health is to counteract the gaslighting.

Counteracting gaslighting.  

Distance and Boundaries: If you want to recover from gaslighting you have to consider separating yourself from the gaslighter. Confronting a gaslighter is extremely unlikely to change their behaviour. They are more likely to double down on their practices. Even if you have begged them to change, and they agree, take a break. You need space to consider the impact of being gaslight and to consider if you really need to be involved a person using such practices. You can’t recover from an abuse that is ongoing.

Counselling – I recommend counselling to recover from the impact of gaslighting and to tackle those traits and thought patterns which make you vulnerable to being gaslight again in the future.  A counsellor will help you explore the stresses you have experienced, helping you talk it out, rather than the alternative, which is to act it out. Specifically, counselling can help:

  • A counsellor can help you explore your account of events to help you analyse if you were being manipulated.
  • Counselling can help you explore your self- concept and self-worth to help you regain a sense of yourself again.
  • A counsellor can hold space for you whilst you grieve the potential end of a relationship, and the image that you had of yourself from that relationship
  • Counselling can help you choose healthy coping mechanisms whilst you recover from gaslighting.
  • A counsellor can help you identify red flags to avoid gaslighting success in the future.
    Counselling can lead you though mindful and self-compassion work to help you recover.
  • A counsellor will help you explore any traumas explored before your relationship or as a consequence of your relationship.

Journalling: Write your story out to help bring it into context. Journalling your experience can be an excellent way to track your progress and narrate your reality. This may particularly help you counteract your internalised gaslighting.

Social support: Connect with people who help you stay tethered to reality and help you gain a stronger sense of yourself.  If you are divorcing a gaslighter, consider joining a support group such as the Iron Fairies run by RED DOOR in Hong Kong. Watch out for flying monkeys and placators. These are well meaning family and friends who may approach you to give your partner another chance. Remember they do not really understand what they relationship was like for you, and have no right to assume they know what is better for you than you do.

If you can avoid the gaslighter – if you have to interact with them act bored or ambivalent rather than allowing them to spin you into a web of drama. You can simply “Agree to disagree”. Don’t get trapped trying to convince your gaslighter of your world view – this is a fruitless activity.

Third party filters – if you are leaving a marriage with a gaslighter you may need to interact with your partner for several more years. Whenever possible use third parties to help you stay boundaries from your ex- partner. Your lawyer, your family of origin, parenting coordinators, can help you set rules, filter information, and take the sting out of communications.

Recording details – A record of events and interactions will help you stay anchored to reality, and remind you about the relationship with the gaslighter should you start to fall for their charms again. Do not be tempted to help “clear up” the record unless you have to. A gaslighter will usually reject any account other than their own.

Conduct self-compassion work. There are a variety of self-help books on self-compassion and mindfulness that you can consume on your own, or in collaboration with the work you do in counselling.

Remember counteracting gaslighting requires distance from the gaslighter and the gaslighting experience. If you don’t know if you are being gaslight a counsellor may be able to help you identify what is your problem, from what is being defined as your problem by others.

Useful books if you’d like to learn more about gaslighting.

Barlow, D (2021) Recovering from gaslighting and narcissistic abuse, co-dependency and complex PTSD.

Marlow-Macoy, A. (2023) The gaslighting recovery workbook.

Moutlon Sarkis, S (2018) Gaslighting: recognising manipulative and emotionally abusive people – and break free.

Let it go, Let it grow: Moving beyond old hurts.

Anytime is a good time to “Let it go” , and as a result, let yourself grow.  


Past hurts and old injustices can keep people stuck in old patterns of behaviour and thought traps. Bad memories can be like emotional quicksand, and can consume your thoughts taking command of your day-dreams, and leave you feeling obsessed over perceived or real losses, betrayals, and inequities.

It is possible, and probably beneficial, to give yourself a “time’s up” mandate. Just as you might join a gym in order to support your commitment to new health behaviours, you can also decide that you will stop allowing old hurts to define you, in order to let new hopes, grow.

This can be easier said than done. Part of the reason that “Let it go”, is so hard is that it is a challenging is that it is not satisfying in itself, without a benefit or alternative activity. Replacing one type of thinking with another, is easier to contemplate than simply asking an active mind to STOP. An active mind wants to remain active. In order to let it go, we need also think about alternative thoughts and behaviours to actively replace old tired traps. Hence, I ask you to consider, let it go, to, let it grow.

There are a mirage of excuses and reasons to hold on to old patterns of thinking. I hear the cry of “COVID” many times from clients as a reason that behaviours, and even thought patterns, can’t be changed. COVID, and many other challenges exist. People have faced uncertainty, the possibility of death, severely restricted travel. This is true. But hanging onto old hurts doesn’t make those realities any better.

Some ways to let go of old hurts, thoughts and harmful behaviours. 

Cease magical thinking.

Magical thinking occurs when you assume patterns of reactions that have not previously been in evidence. For example, if you are thinking, “If I do x then y will happen”. For example, “if I get sick, he will come back and feel sorry for me” or, “If I just collect enough evidence of this betrayal, my family will finally realise they have wronged me.” The relationships that you thought you think you should be having are probably quite different from the ones that you are actually experiencing in real life.

Learn to accept that other people’s bad behaviour is (really) not about you.

It is common to become stuck when people have wronged us. Betrayal is often not about you, it’s more about our perceived “betrayers” desire to follow their desires at your expense. Whilst this feels unfair, and may not be what you signed up for in a work or personal relationship, focusing on the betrayal keeps us stuck in the role of victim. Lots of bad stuff has happened during the pandemic. Many jobs were lost. Much of this is not personal.

Challenge your labels.

Are you stuck playing the role of a victim, or as an unappreciated hero? Check if you are continuing to hold onto a role label that really has not benefit for your growth. For example, if your partner was unfaithful and ended your marriage, think about it are you not a little bit grateful for the end of a marriage that wasn’t working.

For example, think to yourself, “He had an affair which ended the ‘not the best ‘marriage. I have been stuck feeling bitter and as a victim because I didn’t cheat (even when I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be). The affair gave us both a way out to the marriage whilst allowing me to be the good guy. I wanted that, but now I want more than just that title… “. Choose to thrive.

Check your goals.

You may be consumed with a controlling desire to acknowledged as being wronged. It is possible that you will never receive anywhere near the level of acknowledgement you aspire to. Ask yourself, why do you believe you need this  acknowledgement? Will this make you feel whole? If everyone you could list acknowledged that you were wronged, would you feel complete? Why can’t you be complete without the acknowledgement that you crave? Is that real, or perceived? 

You set your own value, not anyone else. Others do not need to acknowledge that you have been treated unfairly in order for that be true. True for you is true enough. This is a trap that many abused people can fall into. Without the abuse being s acknowledged it can be hard to move on, but it isn’t really necessary. People who have been complicit in your abuse rarely acknowledge that any abuse occurred. If you were wronged, this is your fact, your truth,  and that is enough. Feel it. Own it. Live it. Now you can move toward recovery.

Take responsibility for your role in a situationand no more.

Each party in a hurt played their role, including you. Take some responsibility for maintaining, creating, even exacerbating a situation. Make a promise to yourself that this can end, and you will end it. No situation is one sided. By admitting your careless or harmful actions, this does not automatically cast you as the bad guy. In any hurtful situation any party can be the bad guy, and the victim.


Acknowledge forgiveness, even if only for yourself.

Whilst forgiveness can feel like you are letting a bad guy off, even potentially endorsing their behaviour, there is some benefit to forgive rather than feel angry. Elizabeth Smart who was held captive for 9 months when she was 14 could have hated her captors forever. Instead, she chose to realise that she holding onto the pain and negativity of what had happened to her allowed her captors the opportunity to steal more of her life than they had already dominated. She chose to forgive them and instead focus on her happiness and freedom.

Explore possible rigidity with the power of “YET”. 

Thinking rigid thoughts such as “I can’t do that” will keep you trapped. So will thinking “it is not okay for me to move past this hurt. Add the word YET and this changes everything, suddenly you can’t do this yet, you can’t get past this hurt yet.


Write a ‘let it go’ letter

Write a letter to those who you feel hurt by. For example. “You have wronged me. I didn’t deserve the abuse you have wrought upon me. I’ve been angry long enough. I’m letting go of my feelings of anger, resentment, hurt and betrayal because I don’t need to carry those around with me anymore. I choose not to give you any more of my energy”. You do not need to send the letter. This letter is for you to capture your hurts and thoughts on a page.

Channel your energy into positive change. Let new thought patterns develop.

Transform your narrative

Rather than label yourself as wronged, or as a victim, think about who you are in the story of your life. Are you a survivor? Are you working to make yourself a better person? What are your strengths? How can you be more empathetic and realistic in your view of yourself? You are a work in progress, celebrate where you are going and what strengths you have to get yourself there. Cast yourself in a different role as you have in the past.

Future focus

What is in the future for me? What do I want in my life? What am I choosing for my future? Do not focus on what you leave behind. Imagine the past is like the border of an old country of hurt, and now you live somewhere else, and that border is closed. This doesn’t mean that you can’t look back at old albums from the ‘old country’. Rather continue to acknowledge that you no longer live there.

Get on your DIVA amour
Utilise the amour and weapons of a true diva. Both men and women can utilize this Diva visualisation. Being strong, being clever, continuing a struggle, are values within a cloak of amour that you put on. For me, I celebrate being a diva-hustler, (thank you #Michelle Visage #DivaRules). This means I remain determined to build opportunities for myself and take chances. Other people I’ve worked with have found their diva in other self- visualisations (eg Madame Butterfly, BadAss). The weapons you have to support this Diva-amour are your strengths (your smarts, your friendships, your focus, your commitment, your creativity.)

Write a mantra specifically for  you.

A mantra is a passage that becomes an instrument of the mind. What the mind sets as an intention and belief so that this can to fruition. Phrase this in a positive voice. Celebrate your strengths. Remind yourself of your goals. For example:

I am strong, calm, loved and forceful. When I face a challenge, which will invariably happen, I will draw strength from the people who love and support me, remember all that I have already achieved as a result of my skills, and my commitment to my family, and myself.

I can respond to challenge, I can respond to change, I am more than enough.

Decide to pursue internal love over external anger.

The cure to external anger is internal love. Even if you are still working on accepting yourself, remember that it is OK to be not okay, as long as you are a work in progress. Be kind. Keep working on supporting yourself. That project is never ending.


Gratitude

Being grateful reminds us want we have, rather than focusing on what you perceive may be missing from your life. When we see what we have we learn to that we are more complete than we first realised and have more than enough in life, and even more importantly, we are enough.

I hope you find these activities helpful. If you find yourself stuck in old hurts you can consider to consider counselling to help you let go. All of us need help sometimes, and that is okay. Our team is here to help if you get stuck.

#michellevisage #divarules  #recovery #reddoor #gratitude #mantra #mentalhealthessentials #mentalhealth

The Power of New Year Resolutions.

The tradition of setting resolutions at the beginning of the New Year has a long history.  In the time of Caesar’s Rome, the Senate decided that the new year would begin on the 1st January in reverence to that month’s name sake – the God Janus – the two-faced God who looks backward to the past and forward to the future at the same time. The Senate set the new intention for being kinder and more cooperative with each other when the new year began, and thus the tradition of  New Year resolutions was created.

I like the idea of resolutions simply because you consider and embrace the opportunity to introduce change into your life. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it would be that we can not control change ENFORCED on us, but we can control change that is INVITED by us. Invite some positive change into your life this year.

Setting resolutions may seem unrealistic. A few years ago I worked with one of HK’s leading market research teams, CSG, to explore what people intended for their resolutions.   Over 50 percent of the 900 people interviewed had set the same resolutions year after year. This might imply that they ‘failed’ last year to achieve their goal. So perhaps they should quit whilst they are ahead. We disagree.

Rather than seeing repeat resolution as a failure I feel it expresses determination to keep trying. As is often quoted (and attributed to several authors), it does not matter how many times you fall down, but rather how many times you get back up.

The only thing in life that is constant is change. It would be unrealistic to expect things to always stay the same. Resolutions allow you to invite change into your life on your terms. If you are going to experience change, why not accept that and invite the change that may create the biggest new opportunity, heal old hurts and invite the change that you have been searching for.

What happens if you fail in your resolution? You start well, but then your commitment tapers off. Don’t worry. Start again. If you slip up once or twice, or even twenty times. If you stay committed to what you want to accomplish, you’ll be proud of yourself in the end. And Chinese New Year is just around the courner, with a new invitation to invite change again.

Invite change. Invite growth. Happy New Year.

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For those of you interested in our original resolutions research –  I have included some of the results of the CSG/RED DOOR research in order for you to understand what goals other people set.

Summary of some of the research by CSG and Red Door in 2017.

We conducted a survey with 400 Hong Kong affluent individuals and 500 Chinese affluent regarding the resolutions they have intend for 2017, and their commitment to achieving these resolutions. From the survey, 61% (Hong Kong) and 59% (Chinese) affluent adults has made resolutions for 2017.

  1.  65% of women in Hong Kong made a resolution relative to only 57% men
  2. The top 2 resolutions that women in Hong Kong made are:  Health & Fitness (68%) + Money (63%)
  3. 80% of women in HK have concrete goals + time frames
  4. Only 44% of these HK women made a new resolution
  5. To achieve their resolution, they plan to do the following:
    1. Chart their success (43%)
    2. Make a change in their career (36%)
    3. Change a regular habit (35%)
    4. Change their look (32%)
  6. They are making the resolution for themselves because 72% believed that they would be most impressed with the achievement of their resolution
  7. 62% of the women in HK have made resolutions that involved a financial commitment
  8. They are willing to spend an average of HKD5,210 in the first month

Data suggest that HK women are making more resolution than men and are committed to achieving their resolution with financial investment.

  • There are some really good data for Chinese women that shows up a nice contrast to HK women.
  • We have also provided data for different age groups which have interest trends for female who are 35 – 44 years old

#reddoor #CSG #Newyearresolutions #positivechange #Newyear