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What do you really want for christmas?

As we head into the season of good intentions, its helpful to remember just how powerful it can be to set an intention and let it go…

Some time around the age of 30 I discovered that if I could be clear I wanted something it tended to happen.  This was somewhat disconcerting, but also exciting.  If I really set my heart on something, truly and clearly, it would appear in some way. The catch of course is being clear what you really want – and being honest with yourself if there are parts of you that maybe don't want this thing just yet.

 So all through my thirties I said I yearned to be in love again – but in reality I had no intention of getting myself involved with someone, and I was making the most of being single.  It took several years of painful exploration before I could really be truly clear that I was ready to meet someone.  And once I was clear, then I did.

 Deepak Chopra talks about clarifying your intention and then letting it go – offer it to the universe as your gift, so that it can go out and come back to you.  If you grip it tightly and revisit it, it will shrivel and die.  It’s rather like digging up the potatoes to see if they are grown yet. Intentions need a chance to grow and mature.

 What is your intention for Christmas?  Is it an ideal of perfection, or more simply survival?  Of finally feeling a sense of connection with your now elderly parent, or difficult sibling?  I would invite you to stop,  sit down, close your eyes, feel your feet on the ground, and let yourself reflect what you really want for Christmas.  Allow the sense to grow, explore how it would feel to have this and be clear that this is what you would really like.  Notice  and listen to any doubts or concerns that may appear, and adjust your intention until it feels truly right for you, and does no harm to others.

 Hold that intention, give it your love, and let it go.



Is resigning your job the moment you really come to know yourself?

In todays Radio 4 Saturday Live today Richard Coles suggested that resigning is when you truly start to know who you are.  Is he right?

Resigning from your job is a huge step.  You may feel you have no choice because life is becoming unbearable and it is a chance to finally say No.  I know from my own experience of resigning from my dream job that it is a decision that musters all your resources, and may not feel like the right thing for some time to come.  But being able to say No is vitally important to establish where our boundaries are, and thus who we are.  This can be a lifes work for some of us.

 And it isnt all about saying no – resigning your job can be a powerful statement, saying yes to a future that you wish for.  Resigning can  be a step forward, a first step in showing that you have belief in the future that lies ahead of you.  As Goethe so powerfully put it:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”



Having your cake and eating it

If your style of therapy was a cake, what would it be?

 “Eclectic is like this cake” said my husband, looking at his plate, having eaten most of a piece of ginger cake topped with apple and a sticky toffee sauce. 

It’s got lots of interesting bits on it but it’s not quite as much as the sum of its parts”

 What would an integrative cake look like?  What forms might a gestalt or a psychodynamic cake take?  Here are some ideas as a start to get the juices flowing:

Person centred – a luscious, moist and slightly chewy coffee cake with some rather surprising walnuts and brazil nuts in.

 CBT – a well thought through Victoria sponge, cooked just as Delia instructs, that is delicious for many people, but light on calories and doesn’t last too well.

 Psychoanalytic – this one is well established and is years in the making: a deep rich (and sometimes rather dry) Christmas cake that improves with maturity … and liberal applications of alcohol.

 Relational  - it doesn’t matter what the cake is as long as there are two of them.

 Systematic – in what context is the cake situated? Who gets to eat the cherry on the top?  Is there any left for me?

 TA  - A chocolate mini-roll (or role?) which can provoke different reactions -  "Gimme, gimme!", "Not right before bedtime, darling", or "Maybe just another little sliver".

 Developmental  - let's just start with a very small cup cake….

 NLP – This cake is a map not the territory. Let's explore it with all our senses, let it taste delicious, let the deep chocolate smell waft towards you, let it be wonderfully large, deeply coloured, blazing with candlelight, notice how your taste-buds are starting to water, etc. etc.

 Gestalt – Yes, but what does the cake want to say? Here, now, in this moment?

 Might attempting to integrate this lot lead to indigestion?


If I know where I stand I know who I am


There is a lot of talk about values these days, particularly from politicians with their talk of “hardworking families” and “British values”.  But its hard to know what it really means – or indeed what good it is doing anybody.

For us as individuals, and as part of our families and communities, values are important, because they tell us who we are.  Having a clear set of values enables us to have a clear sense of self, a clear sense of our identity and who we are in the world.  This was demonstrated very clearly to me this weekend, when I went to the funeral of someone who had greatly touched me with her kindness and warmth. 

Everything about the funeral exemplified the values that this friend stood for: the location, the simplicity, the music and readings, and the courage with which each contributor played their part. The eulogy seemed to bring her back with us, beautifully written, full of her sayings and beliefs.  Here was someone who really knew what was important to her, and lived those values.  She didn’t compromise or live to other people’s rules, but lived and loved with a passion that she shared with all those around her.

We get our beliefs and values from many sources.  Some we work out for ourselves, and some we get from other people, often our parents, but also grandparents, uncles and aunts and other significant adults.  Some of these beliefs are handed down through the generations, not always with positive effect.  We pick up values from school, from our friends and colleagues.  Teenage years are a very active time of sorting through values and working out the things that are really important, but this process continues through life.

Part of the work of therapy (and coaching) is to help you become clearer about the values you hold, where these come from, which of these beliefs are really yours, and which beliefs you wish to retain.  For example, I realised that my mother and father had both given me a set of values.  The problem for me was that these values often contradicted each other, they took up a lot of space, and they left little space for what was uniquely me. 

I like drawing, so I found myself expressing this in the picture below


This picture showed me how little space I had, and the conflict between my inherited values.  This then helped me to work towards integrating the historical values from my parents and giving myself more space, by discarding what I did not need or was conflicting, and integrating what was important.  (This integrating process is an important part of Integrative Therapy.)

 With this realisation, another picture emerged (below).  I see this one as integrating different parts of me, bringing in parts from my parents, and a space for me, a heart filled centre, a sense of transcendence, and clear boundaries.

The result of this work has been to help me be clearer about who I am, to say no when this is the best answer, to make decisions, and to know where our boundaries are.   I can filter what others say, chew it over and discard what I don't believe.  I don't have to swallow it whole.

Does any of this resonate with you?  Do you know what your values are?   I will be writing more about how you can explore your own values next week.  In the meantime, why not tell me what you think.  Contact me at:


Do something different for a change

There is a maxim in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) that says:

 “ if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got”

It’s a bit like having a recipe for life  - if you always take the same ingredients, mix them in the same way, cook them in the same oven for the same time and at the same temperature, you have a pretty good chance of producing something very similar.

And to me that’s a very nice idea – it gives me the sense that I know what is going to happen, that I’m in control, that the world is safe.  This sense of safety and protection is important to me.  It was how I kept myself safe as a child, and how I have negotiated new situations as an adult.

But from time to time we need to change, and want to change.  I know from my own history that sometimes I really want to experience  something different, to escape from the way I see the world, and to break down some of the rules that I have been living by.

 I first learnt about doing things differently when I broke up with someone (let’s call him Tim) whom I absolutely adored – but hardly knew.  He was a recovering alcoholic, an artist, and one of the most entrancing looking people I had ever met.  He took me to AA meetings, which drew me in with their openness, and a sort of glamour in their intensity (and the fact that there were several well known people in the group).  But then I went to an Al-Anon meeting – a group of those who live with alcoholics, their family, their partners and friends.

 This wasn’t glamorous at all – quite the opposite.  I remember a small and grubby room, where some rather drained looking people sat round a table and we were challenged to look at ourselves, and why we were attracted to an addict, and what was missing in our lives.  It was extremely uncomfortable, and I didn’t go again, but it made a deep impression on me.  I had already started to sense a feeling of addiction to Tim, not being able to say goodbye, wanting to phone him at all hours of the night, wanting something from him that he just couldn’t give me.

 With the wisdom of hindsight and psychotherapy training, I can see that I was deep in a projection of my unmet parental needs, someone to be both father and mother to me.  Tim could sense that I wanted something from him that he couldn’t give me – though he expressed it in terms of a future family life.  So we ended the relationship , but I was left with what felt like an addictive need to see and talk to him.   I knew I needed to change this, to let it go, but how?

 I decided I needed to teach myself to think differently, and to do this, I would start doing up to three things differently each day and see how this worked.  I would keep a journal, and write about my feelings.  Each morning I wrote freely, covering some three sides of A4  with whatever was in my had.  In the evening I wrote about on what had worked during the day, and what I felt grateful for.

 I started by noticing where I had choices.  Coming out of the flat for example, did I cross at the first traffic lights (as I always did) or walk a little further to the ones by the tube station ( as I always did on my way home).    I looked at my clothing choices.  I looked at who I was spending time with.  I didn’t try and do it all at once, but tried doing one thing different each day, and noticing how that was, and then building up from there.

 I’m very short-sighted, and my glasses or contact lenses are vital to me.  I experimented with walking around without my glasses, and found I could see a great deal more than I thought I could.  I started to enjoy walking along my street, noticing what I could see, rather than worrying about what I couldn’t.  Fortunately I discovered I could see moving cars quite easily.

 By doing things differently and capturing my feelings through writing I gradually started to reduce my dependence on Tim.  It was so important that I noticed how I was feeling, what was working, and see what was there, rather than what wasn’t.  By feeling gratitude each night for what I had, I started to replace a little bit of what had been missing from my childhood.   With each bit that I put in place, my dependence and pain around Tim reduced, until eventually.  I could start to see him more as himself, and start to accept that he wasn’t the right person for me.

 Doing things differently is still a conscious strategy for me, as I go through psychotherapy training.  Sometimes I try and break too many rules at once and find myself adrift and unhappy.  When this happens, my journal and my own therapy are vital to keep some sense of safety and containment.  I don't always keep a journal, but It is becoming increasingly clear to me that writing is an essential safeguard in any sort of change work. 

 It is important to remember that the rules that we live by, the rules we have created for ourselves, were made by us to keep ourselves safe.  We made these rules for ourselves when small, and working out how to survive, attract love and attention, or otherwise negotiate our family.    As get older we can find that they may well now be making our lives overly rigid, and limited, but they had a purpose then, for us as children.  It is our task, as we grow older and no longer need all these rules, to find ways to identify them, grow through them, and shed those that restrict us, so that we can find ways to grow through them, to live our lives fully and freely. 

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"