I have written before about the value of the ah-ha experience. The spontaneous insight that is gold to the therapeutic process.
The ah-ha is more than insight. Sit and contemplate long enough and you will likely get some insight. Sit and talk with a skilled professional and you will likely get greater insight than you could alone.
The ah-ha is a significant insight that shifts reality in a profound way. Once you have had a true ah-ha, you can never go back to the old way of thinking or being.
Ah-ha's are individually driven or therapist assisted.
Therapist assisted insight usually occurs when the therapist has insight about a persons issue. They may present it immediately or sit on the insight until the right time, perhaps confirming or refuting along the way and then presenting it when the person is receptive. The combination of timing, receptivity and, of course, accuracy can create a profound shift in the individual. However, this shift cannot happen with out the individual being open, unguarded and trusting of the therapists interpretation. If poorly timed, off the mark or simply inaccurate then there is no moment.
Within the ah-ha moment a connection is made between previously disconnected internal information in a way that synthesises a new understanding relevant to the problem of concern. Once you've ah-ha'd, you can never go back to the old way of thinking or being.
Of course I am a believer in therapy. After years of seeing so many people for so many different issues I really don't think theres a person on this earth that wouldn't benefit from some sort of self reflection facilitated by someone who has been there and done that. However, many people suffer from mental health issues that arise from an imbalance of their system often cause by an overflow of stress. The stress then tips them into a spiral of feeling worse and worse and over the course of time they get unwell mentally if not physically also.
The thing about physical health is that it can take an awfully long time before illness manifests or shows up on the doctors blood tests. Many people wander around in a state of sub-clinical health completely unaware of anything other than that they don't feel 'good'. This underlying unwellness will affect state of mind before anything else. If your body is suffering, how can your mind be happy?
What worries me about many people who enter my office suffering from symptoms of anxiety, depression or 'stressing out' is that they are not adhering to the basic principles of wellness.
There are 3 very simple things everyone should implement in their life before they lift the phone to call for psychological help.
1. SLEEP - if you are not getting at least 7-8 hours a night (the majority of adults need this) you are likely to be crabby, lethargic, and less tolerant. Did you know that your brain detoxifies when you sleep? Just like your body, sleep is the time when the glymphatic system of brain actually detoxifies the metabolic debris of the brain leaving it ready for the next day. Not enough sleep and your brain is foggy, and a foggy brain does not make for a sunshiny mood.
2. DIET - Oh, yawn, I know you've heard it all before, but which diet? Well, I believe the right diet is very individual. One diet may be great for some people and that same diet can be terrible for another. One way you can't go wrong is simply to make sure you are getting enough real food. Fresh, unprocessed unpackaged unaltered food that you chew and allow time to digest. Sounds simple but so many people skip meals, eat on the run and men in particular are terrible chewers. Then theres the beverages. Overdoing red bull or coffee is going to make you jittery. Self medicating with alcohol is going to mess with your liver. And thats not even starting on the many people with leaky brain barriers who are sensitive to foods which can have a massive impact on mood.
We all suffer from the busy bug, but as the saying goes, if we don't make time for good health now, then we better make time for illness later. Sadly between now and then many people are suffering from not feeling well on the inside.
Among the many nuances of the therapeutic journey, insight, often known as the Ah-Ha experience, is certainly one of the most prized pearls.
“The term “insight” describes an experience that is related to a state of understanding, which emerges into one’s conscious awareness with sudden abruptness.”
Therapist's should relish the moments when clients have insight into their problems. These ah-ha moments can move therapy forward in leaps and bounds, but like anything good they cannot be rushed or manufactured. As experiences therapists we often know (or at least think we know) the underlying issues and causes related to a problem a client presents with. We want to solve problems, its one of the reasons we do what we do, so we often fall prey to analysing and interpreting so as to edge the client toward a moment where they connect the information or pieces of their story in such a way that they fall over the truth. This is not necessarily wrong, but client generated insight far more valuable.
If I have lead a client toward a particular insight I will always check out, “does that feel right to you?” The days of analysts telling a person what their problem is are long gone. Now we know if it doesn’t FEEL right to a person then it is not the right answer for them. What we didn’t know years ago we can now actually observe happening in the brain. Moments of insight light up different areas of the brain and create new neurological connections. This can only occur if something has meaning to the person, it is an internal state that cannot be created. An ah-ha is a moment in time where previously unconnected yet related neuronal pathways connect with another related yet previously unconnected neural network to form a spontaneous powerful synergistic moment of new knowing. Like a mathematical problem finally making sense, this great leap in understanding is created in this moment and results in permanent neurological change.
Have you ever seen a true gestalt image? When you first look at the image all you can see is one thing - two faces staring at each other OR a vase. Eventually you force a change in your perception and make yourself see the vase. Once you see it you cannot un-see it. You can never go back to only seeing the 2 faces. Its the same with insight. Once you have insight into an issue its hard to keep doing the same thing the same way. Just as your perceptual framework was altered once you discovered the hidden image, your conceptual framework has been altered at the neurological level once you have had an insight.
Good and timely insights that are client generated (or if therapist generated feel “right” to the client) basically rewire old circuitry in the brain. Things are re-filed under the new system. The mind has been changed and it can never go back to being quite the same way again.
Psychological & Cognitive Sciences May 2013 Vol.58 No.13: New advances in the neural correlates of insight: A decade in review of the insightful brain. SHEN WangBing1, LUO Jing2,3*, LIU Chang1* & YUAN Yuan1
The brain is there to solve the problems of the body. Especially the gut. If we ingest a toxin (bad food, poison) we need to do something about it right away. The gut might have feelings but it doesn't make executive decisions, that's the brains job. The vagus nerve is an information super highway connecting the brain to every other organ system in the body and it will signal the gastric reflex to vomit. However, if the toxin makes it to the gut we are all familiar with the cramping and hideous feeling of being unwell (in the body and mind) that goes with a dose of gastro. We can't think, act, move, do anything other than be sick. Being sick in the gut dramatically affects the behaviour of the brain.
However, If these cytokines hit a critical amount they can actually cross over into the brain and cause inflammation in the brain! As a result of this brain inflammation there will be a concurrent change in behaviour. It will change the neurotransmitter balance and …
"It may be not your head it could be your tummy" (Henry Oselink 1).
There is a lot of research coming out about the link between inflammation and psychology. To me as a psychologist its a plain as my own recent experience with a gastro bug. The virus/ bacteria or what ever it was was in my gut as the cramps and frequent trips to the bathroom left no mystery as to the cause of my illness. Yet it was my behavioural output that struck me - they way I felt and acted. Tired, lethargic and unable to do much of anything, nor did I want to, which is most uncharacteristic (much like many of my depressed clients). Then during recovery when some energy was back but the stomach ache was still there I had a day of feeling irrationally cranky and irritable (much like some of my other clients). I knew there was no reason for me to be angry, but everything annoyed me. I appreciate this experience as it gave me first hand experience with puzzling chronic symptoms of some of my clients who often also have gastric symptoms. Its the one who have no clear gastric symptoms yet suffer ongoing depression that research is now looking at and realising that
"chronic exposure to elevated inflammatory cytokines and persistent alterations in neurotransmitter systems can lead to neuropsychiatric disorders and depression". 2.
I truly believe that if psychology is to move forward as a science we need to stop looking at the head as separate from the body as so many other specialist disciplines do. We are a whole interconnected organism where one organ system can affect another and this needs to be appreciated in the treatment of long standing mood disorders where counselling and medication has failed.
1. Interview Henry Osiecki - BioConcepts "The Gut-Mind Link and how emotional responses can trigger physiological disease states and symptomology ."
2. Neuroscience. 2013 Aug 29;246:199-229. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.04.060. Epub 2013 May 3.
Inflammatory cytokines in depression: neurobiological mechanisms and therapeutic implications.
Recently I have been curious about the effectiveness of tapping techniques that claim to literally evaporate peoples problems with a few words and taps in the right spots. I imagine how attractive this would seem to the many who seek instant cures of their emotional woes as an alternative to psychotherapy.
EFT- Emotional Freedom Technique claims to be a universal healing tool for better emotional health and can even be learnt and practiced for free.
I must admit, I have tried it out and all I felt was a bit silly to be tapping and speaking and then expecting to feel different. Even revisiting it lately with an upsetting experience I failed to gain any relief despite my desire that it would make me feel better about the situation. However, hundreds of positive online testimonials would say otherwise.
EFT or Psychotherapy, which works?
There is a scientific explanation that supports this systems validity (aside from meridians). Apparently the tapping acts as a distraction and brain entrainment that may help the person feel better afterwards, but so far the scientific trails are lacking evidence that many testimonials portray. Psychotherapy effectiveness, however, has been studied and proven for decades.
I am not here to either discredit or negate the possibility of an instantaneous release of a negative belief pattern or problematic emotional cluster, it sounds wonderful, I just worry about the utility of the way in which this is done. I fail to to see how it can be lastingly effective in remedying the constellation of beliefs, thoughts, feelings, responses and ways of acting and reacting to others that inevitably cluster around traumatic events or negative beliefs about self.
I can certainly see the attractiveness of an instant magic cure. We live in a world where we expect if not demand instant gratification so it is not a mystery why these therapies are so attractive to people. And if they work then they are also good value, but they also can be seen to rob people of very important characteristics that real psychotherapy offers.
None of us are perfect, none of us, and facing that can be hard for some. Someone with existing personality issues to think they are a better person after tapping away their concerns may miss an entire life lesson to be learnt. To many people read books and self help courses and think they are working on themselves. Then they sadly continue to do the same things they always did believing they are in the right because they have 'worked on themselves'. It is a slow road to personal growth for those who try and travel the journey alone. Certain things can only be taught by someone who has traveled the road already and holds us accountable to our path. Tapping teaches us nothing about who we are, how we operate in the world and how to truly be a better person. The insight that can be gained when we open our self to truly learning who we are and the flow on effect this has for others in our life is a reward in itself.
Commitment to work on self.
Working on our flaws and acknowledging our strengths is a commitment that, in and of itself, creates change and healing across many areas of a person’s life and relationships. As a wise person once said, ‘nothing good ever comes easily’, and this is so true when it comes to personal growth and betterment.
The evidence before my eyes
I have recently watched a friend transform over the time she has been in therapy. Her health issues have improved, she no longer gives her energy away to others who just take, she seems more solid and content, grounded and directed. She reminded me of the importance and significance of what I do, and that although it takes time and I would love to magically cure a lot of my clients, pain and struggle is there for a reason. Life wants us to learn, no one really helped us as a child to walk and talk, we did this because within we have a natural drive for growth. Quick fixes feed our impatience and desire to ‘be there’ already but like a fast food meal they fail to truly satisfy and nourish us. Nothing can replace the true and deep transformation that can occur when a person really commits to doing their own work and stops wishing it would magically disappear.
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be brimming with self esteem while others can barely say a kind word about themselves?
How do we get self esteem in the first place?
Self esteem develops over time beginning in a secure early relationship with parents or caregivers. Attentive care givers who respond in timely and appropriate ways to the needs of the infant instil a sense in the child that everything will work out for them. This basic sense of trust in the world forms an abiding belief that they, by extension, are okay also. This is built on as the child grows into a toddler exploring the world and returning to a safe base where a parent reflects back the child’s joy in his or her discoveries. Basically the parent 'sees' the child and mirrors back what they sense the child is experiencing reinforcing to the child that they are worthwhile and important.
Of course there are many things that can happen as the child grows up that can damage this basic sense just as there are many experiences that can encourage it, but the basic sense of “I am okay” starts very early in the child’s life and is built upon throughout his or her life.
Some parents are good at working out what their baby needs and meeting the whims of their toddler, others are not so good.But we also have to consider the child in this picture. Babies are not blank slates. They come into the world with their own temperaments; sometimes they are easy to read and other times they cry and cry and parents never know why. In addition some children are temperamentally disposed toward a happy outlook on life and their outgoing disposition fosters positive feedback from the world, while other children are introverted or anxious by nature and have difficulty with feeling safe and trusting.
However, childhood self esteem doesn’t always translate exactly into adult self esteem many things can happen along the way to negate the gains of early childhood. For example, bullying at school, tragedy’s such as loosing a beloved relative or being involved in other traumatic events.
Many things can impact our sense of trust in the world and trust in ourselves as good people.
Many self esteem movements suggest faking it until you make it might work. Other systems suggest mimicking people you want to be like. Still others suggest you try to override your negative self image with positive affirmations. While some of these techniques might work for what I have found as the real way to achieve lasting and ever growing levels of self esteem is summarized below.
3 ways to get more Self Esteem
1. Believe in what you achieve.
People with low self esteem are often the first to criticise themselves and the last to recognise the value of what they do. They aren’t useless people and can even be quite a high achievers but they never feel what they do is good enough. If you are one of these them try to see your achievements through the eyes of another and ask if you would be so harsh on anyone else. It all comes back to acknowledging yourself for what you do rather than denigrating it. Acknowledge your achievements no matter how small.
2. Know thyself.
People with low self esteem often ignore themselves or spend time dwelling on certain negatively perceived traits they believe they have. What they can’t see is the parts of themselves that aren’t that bad.
We all have many parts or sub-personalities within our major personality or ‘psyche’. When a part of our psyche is rejected and pushed out of our awareness (and often projected onto and seen in others) it becomes shadow and we loose all the qualities and energy that part possesses. It can be hard to accept or even recognise your dis-owned parts by yourself, simply because they are out of your awareness. This is where psychotherapy or group therapy can be the best way to get back in touch with the fulness of your self. By knowing who you are in all your human-ness you gain esteem because you are a more complete person with access to parts that you previously rejected.
You don’t need to love yourself, just accept yourself, the good as well as the bad.
3. Find a cheerleader.
Having someone who believes in you can help you believe in yourself, especially if you feel you missed out on this in the past. All change happens in the present, so no matter what happened in the past it is never too late to allow someone to reflect back your inner worth. Some people are lucky enough to find this in a partner but for others with low self esteem accepting love can be difficult. If you are someone who doesn’t believe in yourself as loveable and often acts in negative ways toward your partner then you may need to find someone more objective. Love relationships tend to stir up our old attachment wounds and partner becomes the target rather than the person who could help. Therapists, pastors or indirect older relatives can often model good parenting. What you need is objective but caring support for your growth and a safe space to vent your inner most thoughts without shame or repercussion.
Whatever path you choose to better self esteem remember, it is never too late to start seeing yourself for the beautiful human you truly are. You are worthing simply because you draw breath.
So how can we be amongst the successful few this year?
First, understand that we learn by examining our mistakes. So how did I go about things late last year?
I made an honest resolve to give up eating sugar. Tick.
I felt strong and certain in my conviction. Nice.
I also made sure, in familiar pre-dieting style, that I ate as much sugar as I could in the lead up to New Year's Eve. Okay, but why?
My general idea was that I would be so sick of sugar, literally, that I wouldn't want to have any more. Unfortunately it didn't work that way. I failed to devise a strategy regarding what I would do when sugar cravings set in, in fact, I failed to appreciate that this would even happen! Basically, I didn’t really plan, as many people don’t.
This year I intend to use Steven Covey’s 7 habits of highly successful people to make sure my New Year’s resolution, to give up sugar, is successful. I invite you to see how you can apply his world renowned success principles to your own resolves.
Habit 1 - Be proactive
Planning and goal setting are important parts of any life task. If you want to give something up, you need to know what you are going to do, or put, in it’s place.
I wasn’t proactive last year. I didn't have a strategy for what I would do when faced with sugar, cravings or temptation. This year I will be more proactive in my approach and have sugar substitutes and strategies for avoiding sugar-laden situations.
How will be you be proactive in the planning and execution of your goals this year?
Habit 2 - Begin with the end in mind
Many people want to give up or get better at something but they don’t really know why. What is the real goal of loosing weight or saving more money, what is the end state you hope to achieve? Can you go as far as imagining, or setting aside time for visualising how you will look, feel or think at the end of the year looking back and knowing you achieved your goals.
In giving up sugar I see myself at the end of the year as healthier, slimmer and with more energy. I also hope I will have less stressed adrenals, and better pancreas, and so a lower risk of diabetes.
What is it you want to achieve by the end of 2015?
Habit 3 - Put first things first
What are your priorities and how does your goal fit in with your lifestyle? Do you have something more important in the future that might need to be prioritised over this goal, or is this the most important thing to you? How do you see it all laid out? For example, if you are quitting coffee, cigarettes and want to run a marathon which of these is most important and how will it fit with the res of your life?
Understanding how your goals fit with your values is a significant step toward success. My first priority is to maintain good health and clarity of mind. I finding more and more that while sugar might make me feel good while I am eating it, later I am sleepy and foggier. My priority is my long term health and energy and this is in harmony with my values around health and good living.
How are you going to prioritise your goals for 2015?
Habit 4 - Think win-win
The best goals do not put us in competition with another. E.g. If your New Year Resolution is to loose weight so you can be skinnier than your sister, then your motivation is win-loose. Covey mentions one condition essential for a win-win mentality is the belief in abundance. Many of us tend to have a belief that resources are scarce and we need to be better than others.
It was likely I was operating on a scarcity model when I binged on sweets prior to my resolve, as if a part of me believed when faced with a table laden of sugary treats that this is the last time I'll ever get a chance to eat something so delicious. I need to learn from history that sugary treats always will always be there,in abundance and once I have reached my goal if I so desire, I may eat again. I win by being successful, I don’t loose something yummy. I also win in terms of health and wellbeing and this benefits both myself and my family.
How does your goal reflect a belief in abundance or a win-win situation?
Habit 5 - Seek first to understand then to be understood
Five refers to the principles of empathic communication. In terms of setting and keeping goals you need to apply this principle to your inner self. What do you need to understand about yourself that has driven and maintained the habit you want to change or the new one you want to develop?
After seeking to understand the source of my addiction to sugar I realised that sweets have a special place in my heart as well as my stomach. Growing up with my grandma and all the sugary treats she had around led me to equate sweet things with love, warmth and being cared for.
In understanding my motivation to give myself a treat I'm closer to communicating with an inner part of me who may be in need of some attention.
Do you understand the part of you drives the thing you want to change this year?
Habit 6 - Synergize
Habits six speaks about going beyond the opposing or driving forces that normally push and pull us, and moving toward a more holistic approach to things. Here Covey suggests we integrate the understanding gained in habit 4 and 5.
In my example I have already laid groundwork with some understanding of the emotional and psychological factors that drive my sugar addiction. Synergistically I have lateralised how my beliefs and emotions around sugar might also effect me biologically and how I can support my ability to forgo sugar with supplements and sugar substitutes, thus lessening the desire while not feeling deprived.
Can you see your New Year’s Resolution in the framework of a greater whole?
Habit 7 - Sharpen the saw
Habit number seven, the principal of balanced self renewal, should be our ultimate aim. Whether we are giving up bad habits or trying to gain new healthier ones the motivation is to move us toward greater self preservation. Simply, we want to last longer in a the healthiest condition possible and this will apply to many of the common resolutions; Loose weight, exercise more, save money, have better relationships etc.
As Covey states “habit 7 is personal PC. It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have - you.”
My motivation in giving up sugar rests on my knowledge and experience of how it depletes my energy. Very simply if I don’t care for my body I simply won’t be around as long as I want to be. While I don’t feel ‘nearly 50’, my body is and I do suffer longer after day’s bad eating or a heavy night out. I just can’t get away with things like I used to.
Your reasons for setting and maintaining your New Year’s resolutions may be different, but underneath we are all very similar. We want to be better people and a new year offers a fresh attempt at this ongoing task. So I invite you to take some time reflecting on these 7 habits as a framework for greater success with your resolutions for 2015. Lets flip that statistic!
Steven Covey "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" 1989
All children get the silly's sometimes. They act up when you know they can do better. But what about the child who regularly regresses?
We all loose control at times, especially when we are under stress. So first it is best to ensure that your child isn’t suffering one of the 4 s’s.
1. Could they be Sleepy, Starving, Sick or Stressed?
Are they sleep-deprived?
Are they starving?
Are they Sick?
Could they be stressed?
So you have performed a system check and all seems to be in order, but your 6 year old is lying on the floor saying gaga -go goo, and he's not playing, what else could be the problem?
2. New Baby Envy
A common reason for regressive behavour is the birth of a new baby. The older child sees the baby getting attention for crying or gooing. Suddenly they want to have a bottle or dummy and cry and whimper when they don't get their own way.
This is very common and quite normal. Kids are natural mimics and truth is it was not that long ago they were getting the special treatment.
9. Unbalanced bio-chemisty
There are many things that can upset neurotransmitter balance. When our neurochemistry is off, its similar to being tired, stressed or hungry, we just can’t control ourselves. Children are especially vulnerable to toxins, nutrient imbalances, metal overloads or amino acid deficiency because their system is immature. This is a whole other area but worth looking into with an integrative doctor if the problem persists.
10. Need for more nurturing
When all of the possible physical causes are investigated, we need to look into the child’s emotional world. What is going on in there? We will never really know for sure but consider this. Could your child’s baby-like behaviour be expressing an unmet developmental need?Do they just need a little more love and this is the only way they can ask for it?
Are you so distracted and busy that they never really feel they have your full attention, your love, you?
Is their baby behaviour an innocent bid to meet their needs for nurture and attention?
What would happen if you responded to this? Try joining them there and see what happens. Fill them up with them being your little baby again in a playful loving way. Hold them on your lap, swaddle or stroke them and don’t worry they will stay acting like a baby, they can’t.
Children have a natural urge toward growth, if they get what they need at each stage they are naturally propelled forward. But if we try to push them to a stage of development before their time because we need them to ‘be big’ then they miss out on the things that are crucial to the earlier stages of life.
Can we get addicted to love? And what if that ‘love’ is not good love?
Many times I counsel women who struggle to let go of a lover who they know is not good for them. Guys that are cheaters, drinkers, gamblers or just plain mean... most of the time. So what is the attraction?
Well, the rest of the time, or at least at some stage in the relationship (usually the blissful beginning) these guys weren’t bad at all. In fact they may have promised to be just the guy she was looking for. They were charming, or funny, or seemed so interested in the woman in question that she feel for him.
Or maybe she didn’t, maybe this guy just slipped and grew on her. Whatever the pattern, an attraction was established so by the time she found the ‘fly in the ointment’, this guy was part of her life, and most importantly, part of her mind.
Can't she do any better?
So why is it so hard for her to just leave him behind?
Does she have such low self esteem she doesn’t think she can do any better? Well, sadly sometimes this is true.
Other times it is a case of ‘better the devil you know’ and women settle for second best because somewhere they believe that he’s as good as it gets.
The work here is clear, help this woman understand the origin of her beliefs about her self and relationships, then work toward building her self worth and ultimately create the space for attracting the kind of guy who can give her what she really deserves.
Here are 5 reasons why a sane woman can’t leave a crazy relationship
To give him up, to let go of the positive feelings (even if they were built on a flimsy hope for better behaviour), sends her literally into withdrawal. For what ever reason she’s addicted to love, bad love.
Recovery takes time and like any addiction may need the assistance of a 'sponsor' a completely objective person who is there to help you through. If you are ready to let go of someone you know is not good for you first you have to want to let go, then you need to understand why it feels so difficult.
Stay tuned for my blog on 12 Steps to recovering from a bad love addiction.
Neurotransmitter levels can affect your mood, but did you know that other chemical processes in your body can have a also profound affect on how you feel?
Quick Bite (for those of you with little time for details)
Long Lunch (read on if you would like to know more)
Behind the scenes in our brain
Our thoughts, feelings and reactions are all the result of a mass of brain cells (neurons) communicating information. Brain cells don’t touch, they transmit information chemically and electrically.
The three main neurotransmitters that effect mood are also effected by methylation.
Mind the gap
Simply put, in order for signal transmission to run smoothly we need: