Posture and mood are connected. People experiencing sadness are unlikely to be seen with arms reaching for the sky, leaping upward, with a smile beaming across their face. The very idea of someone in a sad state leaping high, eyes sparkling etc. is silly, is it not? This is Because there are rules for sadness and these rules must be obeyed! In this very short piece we explore body-mind-mood relationship…
I say “doing” because “sadness” is a name for an activity. We cannot put sadness in the back of a truck. We cannot take that truck to the top of a mountainous ravine, release the brake and watch it roll down at ever increasing speed to smash into the rocks and burst into flames… no more sadness. No ! Sadness is the label for something we do. And, when we do it well it shows in our posture, the way we carry ourselves.
To “do” sadness ‘properly’ we must adopt a very particular posture. You can easily guess all the components of a sad/miserable mood reflected in posture. Downward gaze, slumped shoulders, low energy. Definitely not much leaping here!
The happy posture is completely different. When people have succeeded in competition or simply connected to their personal power and resourcefulness, they feel confident, happy, reasonably assertive. This is reflected in their posture. Posture and mood go together like peaches and cream. But, does mood determine posture or can posture determine mood? If I am “doing” sadness and change my posture, will this have an impact on my mood? Will I suddenly become more happy?
Power Posture, Power Mood
Amy Cuddy, American social psychologist, has produced some research in this area. In one of her TED Talks, she argues that levels of the stress hormone cortisol diminish and confidence hormone testosterone increase within the space of just 2 minutes of adopting a “power pose” posture (think ‘wonder woman’).
As an extension of this simple sad/happy posture and mood relationships there is the role the body plays in communicating with the brain. Seeing a dangerous animal, our heart rate elevates. Because our heart rate goes up we feel fear. Not the other way round! It is the feedback from the body to the brain that determines feelings. When seeing clients for clinical hypnosis, it is usual encourage the client to orient themselves to a relaxing experience by taking some nice deep breaths. Why is this? our bodies, when relaxed breathe deeply and slowly. Dr Tal Shafir, in a TED talk shares similar information to Cuddy’s and elaborates further on the body-mind relationship, in particular, the consequences of posture for mood.
I hope you will find something of interest here as understanding the body-mind connection can prove helpful for changing the way we do both happiness and sadness and much more besides.
“FOMO”; Fear Of Missing Out, can have deadly consequences. Feeling that need to reach for your mobile device while driving may make great sense. But doing 110 k down a motorway and responding to a loved one’s tweet means you have to split your attention. Life can be rearranged in an instant, in a tweet in fact! Back in 2017, The Sydney Swans supported a campaign to help. [click to continue…]
If you feel short-changed in the sleep deal, you’re not alone. Many people feel deprived of restful sleep. Sleep debt is a big problem. Deaths from driver fatigue are running at more than one a day in Australia (1), and 40 per cent of Australians are sleep deprived. Sleep debt is a big problem indeed! (2).
clear a good night’s sleep is important to our state of mind. Just ask any parent of a baby who is unwell
or experiencing teething troubles! The
consequent exhaustion seriously diminishes personal effectiveness as well as
Insomnia as process
If we think of poor sleep patterns – getting less than 7.5 to 8.5 hours per 24 hours on average (3) – as being the result of a poor sleep process we can unpack the elements of this process and make changes.
my process for Friday night is to drink to excess, party hard over the weekend
on ecstasy or cocaine, I will deliver a perfect state of exhaustion by Monday
I choose a different process on Friday night, say, taking in a movie and
getting to sleep before midnight I will most likely enjoy solid recovery sleep
and wake refreshed enough to enjoy the rest of my weekend.
process, different results! Simple
enough, but simple does not always mean easy.
Structure of sleep
look at the structure of sleep, the stages we go through as we sleep. Initially when we fall asleep, there is still
some conscious awareness and alertness.
The brain produces ‘beta’ waves which operate relatively quickly. As we relax further, much slower ‘alpha’
waves are evident. This is the time when
we are not yet fully out, just deeper than in the beta state. It here curious experiences can sometimes
take place. For example, you may imagine
yourself to be falling, or even hear your name being called. This can make you jerk back into total
wakefulness. While such experiences may
feel odd or even shocking they’re not uncommon.
Here are the stages of typical sleep cycles lasting about 90
Stage 1: This is the beginning of the sleep cycle, and
is a relatively light stage of sleep. This may be regarded as a sort of
bridging time between alertness and unconsciousness. This stage lasts usually just about 5-10
minutes. People waking from stage 1,
sometimes believe they were never actually sleeping at all.
Stage 2: This stage lasts for about 20 minutes. Here, the brain produces more rapid activity
and the body’s temperature begins to lower as does pulse and blood pressure.
Stage 3: This is the brief transition from light to
deep sleep. This stage lasts about 10 minutes.
Stage 4: At this stage (lasting about 30 minutes),
sleep is deep. People have been known to sleepwalk in stage four. People who’ve
been awakened from stage 4 are very drowsy, even confused.
Stage 5: In this stage, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep
takes place. This lasts about 10 minutes.
Here is where the awesome
activity of dreaming takes place. Not
surprisingly, there is increased brain activity and most physical relaxation
takes place. The physical body restores
while mental activity increases. This
may seem contradictory; with high dream activity, rapid eye movement, there is
does not follow a smooth, linear transition through the stages from one to
five. While sleep proceeds through
stages one to four and then back to 3 and 2, prior to REM, and back to 2,
‘Doing’ sleep better
can be done better in many contexts. Strategies
are sequences of steps we progress through to produce outcomes. Sometimes these are aware strategies such as
our exercise routine. Ten minutes
warm-up, 20 push-ups, 10 squat jumps etc. We operate our strategies and produce
strategies are unaware, unconscious. Unaware
strategies, with steps such as, unthinkingly opening a cigarette packet, taking
a cigarette, placing the cigarette in the mouth, lighting it,
inhaling the smoke without full mindful awareness, form very unhealthy
Likewise for poor sleep strategies. Routinely, taking the tablet or phone into the bedroom for late emails or to catch up on viewing before sleep is an unhelpful strategy. Dr Charles A. Czeisler from Harvard Medical School makes compelling claims for the effect of artificial light on our sleep patterns. He claims artificial light wreaks havoc on our natural capacity to sleep to the required 7.5 to 8.5 hours (4).
hygiene refers to those rituals around sleep time that are important. For example, one part of putting sound sleep
hygiene in place involves making a new ‘pondering’ environment (unusual or
non-normal seating or lying arrangement where you process your day or ‘do your
worrying’. Limit worrying time to 20
minutes or so.
the last coffee at least 3 hours before sleep time can prove helpful.
water instead of a stimulant is usually much better at this time.
sleeping environment itself must be free of excessive stimulation (cut TV or
considerations in an improved sleep strategy can include levels of physical
fitness or physical exercise which can assist with inducing healthy fatigue and
encourage longer periods of sleep.
It is clear we are highly stimulated and sleep deprived and, like all debt, unless we rectify we might just default into poor health, or worse, terminal foreclosure!
People often confuse psychology with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy involves the application of evidence based processes, techniques, and modalities which are informed by psychological research. What accredited clinical psychologists, counsellors, social workers, etc. do is psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is talk therapy, as distinct from say, prescription of medication, to assist with mental wellness challenges. The medical model works something like this; The patient presents with signs or symptoms. signs are what can be readily observed. The open wound is a clear sign. The patient reporting a headache is reporting a symptom. Often, the signs and symptoms, in combination, point to the nature of treatment. Dress the wound and provide pain relief, simple!
In psychotherapy, there are usually only symptoms. The patient, or client, describes their felt experiences and the clinical psychologist or psychotherapist , or counsellor, or social worker, or teacher, assesses the story provided by the client at intake and beyond. Such assessment identifies the client’s strategies, their perceptual errors, prejudices, cognitive distortions and possibly their pathologies..
From this point there is questioning, positing possible alternative perceptions to explain something called ‘reality’. Over a series of sessions, sometimes interspersed with ‘homework’ where the client is encouraged to read some useful information, watch some relevant video content, execute some manageable tasks such as making a phone call that has been avoided because of fear.
So, clinical psychologists “do” psychotherapy. Research psychologists provided evidence-based tools for the rest of us to use as we do psychotherapy with clients. The psychotherapist/client relationship is ideally a partnership, a collaboration. I say ‘ideally’ because there are times when the expectations of the client are one-way. The client expects the psychotherapist to ‘fix me’.
Types of psychotherapy
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) seeks to support individuals (children, youth, adults) couples, and families. The goal of psychotherapy is help people address and manage challenges such as; anxiety, stress, unresourceful habits (e.g. exessive alcohol consumption), relationship struggles etc. There are many strands or points of emphasis in psychotherapy. Below is a very brief list of only some modalities devoted to helping people return to purposeful and resourceful functioning.
Psychoanalytic therapy: This form of therapy involves exploration of early childhood experiences as impacting current functioning (1)
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT): CBT enjoys significant popularity among psychotherapists and is easily understood by clients (2). It operates through the questioning of unhelpful thought processes. CBT starts from the premise that thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence behaviour. The CBT model often refers to ABC, where, A is the activating agent or triggering event. B refers to the beliefs about this event, and C, consequential feelings or behaviours. A causes B, which causes C. There are several variations on this general foundation.
Human Givens therapy: (3) A relatively recent addition to the psychotherapeutic community. Human Givens is based on their ‘APET‘ model. In APET, A refers to the activating agent, P, refers to pattern matching – the instinctive unaware seeking of similarities to the activating agent (reflecting the discovery that emotion precedes reason). E, refers to emotion generated by P, which influence thinking. Unhelpful pattern matching gives rise to mental wellness challenges according to the original proponents of Human Givens.
Psychodynamic therapy: (4) involves a more holistic focus than behavioural symptom-addressing therapies. There is an exploration of the person’s narrative over their life’s journey to identify patterns to assist with more global than specific change in the client. There is a focus on unconscious influences on client behaviour.
Clinical Hypnosis and psychotherapy: (5) The application of clinical hypnosis to support change work in psychotherapy is fairly common. Psychotherapeutic interventions are supported because hypnosis can help amplify experience, manage symptoms, build resourcefulness, enhance flexibility. In talk therapy where clinical hypnosis is employed there is the cultivation of focused absorption, deep relaxation, and curiosity around shifting the client’s perspective, changing unhelpful habits, such as smoking, pain management, anxiety etc.
Family constellation therapy: (6) Seen as an alternative, experiential modality, where the client’s inherited inhibiting forces are accessed and addressed. Family Constellation permits the client to not only to see and feel the dynamics at play in their narrative and helps access newer perspectives which support better solutions. This therapeutic modality involves a group of people who may represent family members of relevance to the issue being addressed by the client, with the therapist as guide in the process.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) : (7) ACT involves refraining from resisting or avoiding unresourceful thoughts or denying uncomfortable feelings. It is more about establishing curiosity and acceptance or ‘expansion’ of the undesired feelings. The client is invited to scan their body, observing the location of particular experience related to the distressing experience. The curiosity explores the detail of the physical experience. There is no contest with the undesired emotion or feeling. staying fully present is another feature of ACT. The ‘observing self’ serves to provide a certain distance from any immediate connection to feelings of victimhood.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): (8) This psychotherapy was devised in the 1980s by someone with lived experience of borderline prsonality disorder (BPD). Since then, it has achieved much wider application. Fundamentally, DBT involves considerable psycho-education and supports rigorous self-management. That said, DBT involves regular support for clients with individual sessions as well as group work. Strengths are identified and unresourceful thinking styles (cognitive distortions) are replaced with more appropriate behaviours where possible. From the original challenges with emotional regulation (stereotypically in BPD), coping is fostered and day by day personal management supports new directions.
Art and Play therapies: (9)
Frequently considered more in the realm of ‘child psychology’, art and play therapies include an array of expressive and experimental modalities. Not exclusively to support children, Art and play uses a variety media from movement (e.g. dance, to sand pit play, and music (e.g. drumming). There is a constellation of possibilities when it comes to art and play therapy. Art, movement, dance, sand play, painting, music etc. all support often indirect communication of feeling states in a safe context where outright confrontation might be unhelpful.
Humanistic and integrative psychotherapies (HIT): (10) Humanistic and integrative psychotherapy supports an attitude of curiosity and exploration as the psychotherapist supports the client with choosing their path in life. Making resourceful and self-respectful choices within an understanding that pull of negative forces in life is key to HIT. HIT seeks to support connection to personal value, abilities and resourcefulness. As a methodology, it is flexible and adaptive to the needs of the individual client.
Mirroring Hands: (11) Mirroring Hands is a very recent addition to the psychotherapeutic landscape. Emerging mainly in 2017 but informed by a considerable body of research from Ernest Rossi. Richard Hill and Ernest Rossi collaborated on this client-responsive approach to personal problem-solving and mind-body healing. The therapist is encouraged to “do less” and foster the internal excursion of the client as they permit their own personal understanding and solutions to emerge.
Of course there are a myriad of psychotherapy schools and modalities and what has been presented here is just a very brief glimpse into just a few of them. Talk therapy, psychotherapy, clinical psychology, counselling are all very similar in many ways and what distinguishes some is their level of regulation and standardisation. By standardardisation, I mean the level of professional standards expected of practitioners. Some are university qualified and post-graduate qualified with supervised clinical experience. Others may simply decide they are a counsellor and proceed to practice with little or no regulation beyond the common law of the land. Caution is advisable when availing of help and the quality of the relationship between psychotherapist and client has proven to be a very strong influence on therapeutic outcomes.
Addiction is often described in terms of enslavement to some substance or even process. People are identified as having ‘addictive personalities’, meaning they have some sort of predisposition to dependence on something, such as alcohol or prescription medications. In fact, SBS’s ‘The Feed’, recorded compelling case studies regarding prescription opioid dependence back in 2017. It seems things have not improved since.
Addiction has steps that have a certain predictability, a certain structure. Within such structure lie possibilities.
For the person whose one time happy choice is now a desperate need or obligation, a certain path has been followed. This involved some changes in thinking feeling, deciding and acting. there is potential for changing structure. Even just a little. In this brief piece we view addiction as process, a series of steps…
Destructive gambling is another example of a process dependence and there is increasing discussion of ‘device addiction’.
In his book, ‘Healing the Whole Person’ (2000), Dr Rob McNeilly, points to a solution-focused approach to therapy. Here, the person is regarded as not broken but equipped with resources to overcome currently unhelpful behaviours and habits. He suggests that people can often reconnect with their resourcefulness and achieve improved functioning.
Most ‘addictive’ behaviours include habitual resorts to mood altering experiences through some vehicle or other. That vehicle may be heroin, prescription medication, alcohol, or gambling, for example . All of these actions have one purpose; to ‘feel better’. Feeling better may eventually become feeling less bad. Feeling ‘better’ may not be much of an improvement on a current state but it will count for something. And something is better than nothing when connected to a powerful sense of absence, a profound need for change in state.
Apart from features of reliance, the term ‘addiction’ usually infers preoccupation with the substance (or process) to the point where normal daily living is disrupted or, even destroyed. Whatever the substance, or process, there are often common elements in the person’s thinking styles informing their actions.
Focus is narrowed, and time distorted. Preoccupation with acquiring the needed experience takes prominence over day to day responsibilities and functioning. Usual demands on the person such as family or work responsibilities come a poor second to the pursuit of experience. At least in the stereo-typical depiction of addiction. Other elements supporting habitual reliance involve the person doing the following …
Believing they are powerless to make positive change – entertaining limiting beliefs
Over-reliance on feelings as guides to action. Emotional reasoning.
All-or-nothing thinking – either 100% or zero!
Engaging in anxiety based thinking – expecting the worst to happen and feeling disconnected from personal power.
Disconnection from skills to handle day-to-day frustrations, uncertainties – Poor conflict management skills – low assertiveness skills – low self-esteem.
Avoidant coping – coping by not coping – motivation primarily to avoid discomfort.
Fear of failure – especially with attempts at sobriety. A version of self-negotiation whereby the person sees no point in attempting abstinence as failure is the outcome – a logical result of hopelessness.
Poor time management – time frames are largely present focused, with an emphasis on how one feels right now. Future perspective is usually very short term. Past is forgotten or rarely referred to.
Unhelpful self-negotiation – tendency to negotiate self into unhelpful behaviours e.g. “”I’ll just have one drink on the way home” or, ” I’ll just put another 10 dollars in the poker machine”, or, “one more line…”.
this can express in avoidance of risk, or avoidance of criticism, protective behaviours which do not serve the person well.
Addiction as Process
Those parts listed above are just some elements supporting unhelpful habits. When cognitive distortions like those mentioned above are present, choice appears very limited. However, it can help to see the unhealthy strategy as providing some need satisfaction. The strategy delivers logical, if unhelpful, outcomes. Different strategy different results!
Having is not being
Seeing the person as ‘dependent’, powerless to act in any way other than a user is not only unwise but unhelpful. Even if the person themselves believe they’re hopeless. Taking a different view, and regarding the person as having the problem rather than being the problem, can sometimes be a powerful start in change-work.
Engaging in avoidant coping strategies with little or no consideration of future consequences, makes sense if options are seen as limited. Detours from normal, resourceful, functioning by the unhelpful thoughts leading to unhelpful behaviour, damages life’s progress but relieves pain in the short term.
There are many reports which indicate interruptions to seemingly hopeless and damaging patterns of behaviour (addiction). For example, a client shaving off the smallest fragment from their illicit drug tablet as being the beginning of a path to eventual sobriety (See Bill O’Hanlon’s; ‘Do One thing Differently’, included in the list of links below), or the person who saw themselves in a mirror and were so shocked at the incongruence with their reflection, they changed a long-standing habit of starving. The paths to recovery are many and varied. Recovery, however rapid or lengthy, involves dismantling dependent processes, changing structure of personal experience. Recovery involves replacing unhelpful steps with new, more resourceful ones.
Elements in Change Work
Changing perceptions is a very important part of the change process itself. The idea of addiction as process, a sequence of perfectly logical steps, implies the possibility of changing that sequence. Doing just one thing differently can set up a new, alternative process. One which ultimately defeats feelings of reliance, dependence. Hopefully for good.
In terms of making change, self-discipline can be useful initially. Felt dependence can persist however in the face of powerful cravings. The call for comfort can be powerful indeed. The calming, absorbing effect of the substance can again receive priority from the person and relapse results as the old strategy is activated.
In early change work, it is important for the person to apprehend the possibility of change. To this end, the possibility, as applying to the person, is one starting point. They can come to regard change as both desirable and possible within a therapeutic setting.
The supporting elements (the benefits) of addiction
can now be addressed. Finding exceptions to the current set of assumptions,
helps dismantle the distorted thinking that holds unhelpful processes in place.
In clinic, where there is an emphasis on solution focused therapy, there is considerable attention applied to the resources the client has, but is currently disconnected from. A targeted combination of strategic psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis can be helpful here. Of course, there are many successful methods of addressing behaviour frequently referred to as ‘addiction’, and, viewing the unhelpful behaviour as ‘process’ rather than ‘affliction’ can assist with supporting recovery of the person with efficiency as well as efficacy.
It is true that any consideration of ‘addiction’ must acknowledge the many complexities involved. Behaviour follows thinking but some thinking is unaware. People have reported ‘finding themselves’ at the bar drinking for example. Cultivation of deliberate choice can be helpful initially although clients can find this tiresome. If thinking styles are unhelpful to the person’s well-being, then consequent behaviours will be unhelpful to the person’s well-being.
It follows then, that helping a person shift their processes, their strategies of engagement in life, will consequently change their outcomes. It is not always necessary or useful to explore underlying causes of current unresourceful behaviours. Psychotherapeutic tailoring to fit the specific requirements is important. The application of clinical hypnosis in therapy is just one tool to support some realignment of the person’s thinking styles. When we consider addiction as something the person does, as process, this suggests an element of choice. The person is having a problem rather than being the problem.
If you know someone challenged in some way where habit is experienced as necessity, it may just make sense to talk to a professional. Talking to a professional skilled in helping dismantle unhelpful processes may well be the difference that makes the difference!
Richard Hill and Ernest Rossi have made a fairly recent (2017) contribution in the therapeutic space, “Mirroring Hands”. Like many new things, it was a long time in the making. Informed by Rossi’s extensive earlier works, Mirroring Hands uses more recent developments in neuro-science technology, awareness of natural rhythms, and developments in psychotherapy, I believe Hill and Rossi offer something very special with this process.
At its heart, Mirroring Hands can be seen as a very simple
technique. The therapist is effectively
demoted from expert to ally, providing minimal direction as they invite the
client to embrace curiosity and observe their own experience. The client might experience their own
changing awareness, or any meaning that might attach to experience. There is
minimal discourse or conversation in favour of “inner work”.
In the beginning, there is rapport. A critical element in any variant of
psychotherapy, rapport facilitates a sense of safety to proceed. The quality of the relationship between
therapist and client is a most important determinant of effectiveness in therapy.
Hill and Rossi refer to inner self-healing capacities as
logical functions of therapeutic consciousness.
This is the mindset of openness to the essential processes of beneficial
change. It might seem self-evident that
the very fact of the client’s attendance for therapy means there is a therapeutic
consciousness or predisposition to access inner resources to support
healing. Not necessarily so. The process of Mirroring Hands offers a
prospect for changes to be integrated, for the best self to be retrieved from
painful disruptive consciousness.
Curious about curiosity
Wonder, fascination, sensitivity to novelty, to
possibilities in therapy are powerful, if often overlooked, features of
resourceful therapy. Hill and Rossi
unpack three elements of curiosity:
Curiosity for information, curiosity for play, and curiosity for
possibility/meaning. Supporting a
curiosity mindset is a powerful alternative to the misuse of imagination
through anxiety for example.
Systems of life
The client comes for psychotherapy because they believe they
are not ok. They usually come to be “fixed” over the course of a number of
sessions. In the Mirroring Hands process, Hill and Rossi refer to natural
capacities within the client which can activate a willingness to become ok, to
recover their normal functioning. This
is just obvious. The process of
Mirroring Hands respects the natural capacities of the client, placing the
client in the therapeutic driving seat. Exploration of the “problem” inhibiting
the client’s functioning is supported by inviting the client to simply examine
their hands as if, for the first time.
Attending, focusing, and observing their hands. Noticing whatever differences might apply to
either. One may seem heavier, lighter,
warmer etc., than the other. It would be
overly simplistic to regard Mirroring Hands as a variation of “Parts
Integration” from the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Problem-solving with Mirroring Hands
The Mirroring Hands therapist invites the client to permit their problem issue to inhabit one hand. Permitting the problem issue to sit in one space implies that “non-problem” may be understood to sit in an opposite space, the other hand. With focused, absorbed attention, this is quite a reasonable proposition. The very act of choosing to project the problem issues into one hand, available for observation, affords some distance from pain.
The other hand then, holds the difference that makes the difference. A certain comfort may be contained within this distance. From here there is greater opportunity for the client to engage their natural processes of self-organisation toward regained resourcefulness and healing.
So Mirroring Hands supports the client’s connection to their innate mind-body healing.
The therapist is extremely client-responsive and certainly non-directive. The therapist supports curiosity, wonder even, as to any relationship between physical sensation and problem resolution. In other words the therapist supports the client’s exploration of possibilities and meanings.
The therapist even invites healing or resolution to proceed
after the session has ended. Sustaining
the shift from disruption toward integration and healing is encouraged.
Focused attention which supports deep curiosity and positive expectation or “nascent confidence” sets the scene for good work in therapy. Mirroring Hands is a very useful version of solution oriented therapy. The course workbook itself houses an abundance of research evidence from neuroscience (even a neuroscience of curiosity!).
I myself have used Mirroring Hands with clients in clinic. The initial discipline required to ‘get out of my own way’ and let the client engage with their own experience, to learn what they are learning without a need to share or discuss, was interesting. Clients achieve realisations, make connections, and reconnect with personal power when it works. when the client is predisposed to do this important work.
Mirroring Hands is a relatively recent addition to the therapist’s tool-kit (2017) and its simplicity is deceptively complex. The therapist will benefit from restraint in favour of encouraging their client to take their rightful place at the heart of the process … in charge of their own recovery. Mirroring Hands is a most welcome resource for any professional in the therapeutic space. As Hill and Rossi say; Mirroring Hands is not for every client in all situations, but then no process is. Best therapy fits both client and context. For a little more information … https://www.richardhill.com.au/mirroring-hands
Cognitive distortions are those parts of our thinking that can get us into trouble. “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so…” Shakespeare was pretty close in his thinking about thinking strategies. Some examples include making assessments of reality on the basis of skewed perception. Knowing a small amount and filling in the blanks with emotional loading. [click to continue…]
Apart from being fairly plausible. if impressionistic, to say that gratitude is good for your health, there is some evidence that people who are grateful, and I mean consciously grateful, are better off in a number of ways. In this brief article, I explore connections between gratitude and happiness and look at some of the available evidence. [click to continue…]
Rosemary, was a woman who left an abusive marriage and worked her way to the corporate top in a time when society’s expectations of women were domestic in character. Bronnie came to care for Rosemary in her dying days. Toughened by life’s circumstances, Rosemary remained tough, even harsh in the way she treated her carers. Bronnie’s finance career background and experience afforded a slight softening of Rosemary’s attitude. In her book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’, Bronnie Ware describes some dying, end of life regrets, perhaps, so we might learn a thing or two before its too late.
Rosemary’s mornings were underscored by bitterness and discontent. She was most abusive to her carer in the mornings. In an exceptionally bitter tirade, Bronnie called a halt and issued an ultimatum. Rosemary must be kinder or else she would leave. The response was a loud directive to get out of the house immediately. Bronnie remained and stayed silent, just looking at Rosemary.
Silence in this tense conflict between employer and employee, between the soon to die and her carer, passed for a few moments. Seated close enough together Bronnie asked if Rosemary was finished? “For now” came the reluctant reply. Later Bronnie recalls Rosemary looking very lost, like a little child. Its interesting that Bronnie had a disposition to see past the presenting hostility and find a little lost child.
Stop being happy!
After that little crisis, the relationship with Bronnie became a little friendlier. Rosemary was dedicated to organising her finances, making plans that, with ever failing health, would never be realised. Her controlling personality persisted to some extent. She complained about Bronnie’s humming and her being “happy all the time”.
In the increasing softening of their relationship Bronnie was inclined to subtly share some wisdom. suggesting happiness is a choice to be made every day… or not, proved important for Rosemary. Finding blessings and meaning in daily life even in the face of particular challenges are distinct possibilities, open to us all.
While caring for Rosemary, Bronnie received a diagnosis of her own which her specialist insisted required urgent major surgery. There is no space for fear in a journey of healing and Rosemary’s residual barking bitterness was not much more than fear being vented. Bronnie’s speculating on her own future, the prospect of her passing from her own disease without surviving to old age, meant experiencing emotional pain and old memories of past hurts.
Realising that her life already lived was filled with wonderful people and experiences provided a sense of peace for Bronnie like never before. Attending to her diet, meditating and visualisation processes all helped her. Routinely checking in with her body, she interpreted even minor ailments as indicators of unhelpful prior thoughts. Even in times of few opportunities for happiness, there can be peace within acceptance of the current difficult experience. Just has happiness passes, so too with misery or fear.
The debate with Rosemary over Bronnie’s excessive ‘happiness’ continued. Bronnie suggested that Rosemary ‘pretend’ to be happy, to fake a smile for about 30 minutes, just to see what might happen. Rosemary reported that she believed she never deserved to be happy. The scandal of her marriage breakup from the distant past contaminated Rosemary’s present because she had allowed it to.
It is good to wonder sometimes how our own past experiences are permitted to influence our present state of mind and behaviour. Resentments are said to be like taking poison and expecting another person to die.
With tenderness deepening between the two, Rosemary came to the realisation that she was, in fact, fully entitled to be happy and regretted that she hadn’t let herself be so. In her 80s and very close to death Rosemary was able to declare; “I am starting to like who I am these days.”
So much time had passed for Rosemary. Are there lessons here for us? I’d like to learn what happened for you in reading this.
This little piece was informed by Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying.’ Published by Hay House 2015.
Please drop by soon for more posts. You never know, you might just find something helpful.
In Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top five regrets of the dying’ (2015), she writes of her own experiences as a palliative carer in Australia. With little training and a big heart Bronnie shares her exposure to people at end of life and describes the pain of missed opportunity. Her work contains many lessons. Lessons which could help us all address our own potential for regrets on dying.
Earlier, I have offered a few short pieces based on top 5 regrets and now I want to continue and share a little about Bronnie’s regret number 4.
‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’
While mainly working in people’s own residences, Bronnie occasionally took some shifts in private nursing homes. Her experiences there were far from pleasant with treatments of patients far from respectful in some cases. An absence of compassion on the part of some staff made the experience particularly harsh.
Bronnie recalls the experience with a patient called Doris. Doris burst into tears simply on received a cheerful greeting from Bronnie. On becoming a little acquainted, Doris shared about her loneliness and the absence of friendliness in the place. She shared how her daughter was living overseas. Her daughter was busy and remote, living her own life.
Because of Bronnie’s genuine interest, Doris opened up more and more. Doris was missing her friends most of all. She asked Doris’s permission to do a little detective work and locate her friends. Her interest in helping Doris was not entirely selfless. In her own story, Bronnie has lost contact with others on the basis of withdrawing in order to avoid pain. A familiar cognitive distortion I encounter from time to time in therapy.
Bronnie forthrightly refers to her own pain as she describes her relationships with people in the palliative care setting. Fortunately, and I guess as a result of some great change-work, Bronnie’s compassion won out and she was able to share herself with those in her care.
Over time, Bronnie made contact with a few of Doris’s friends, two of whom had died. Doris actually spoke to her remaining friend on the phone. Her elevated mood sustained Doris for some time after that piece of detective work by Bronnie. Soon after that, a happy Doris passed away.
In regret number 4; ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’, Bronnie shares, not just detached stories of others, but her own journey into deeper authentic connection within herself. Practicing self-compassion is a key to happiness and being open to empathy with others.
Please stop by again from another brief piece on Bronnie Ware’s Top 5 regrets of the dying’.