This is a great idea. If only we could get it miniaturised and slide it into our hippocampus and wire it up to our limbic system. Bingo! Instant sunshine every day…
I attended a course last weekend which started me thinking about how much we all damage ourselves and our quality of life by indulging in Perfectionism. We often think of Perfectionists as having some form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) where all can labels in the cupboards have to face forward and the cans and bottles have to be ranked in size order and by colour and content.
Most of us have some element of the Perfectionist within us – liking a tidy home or desk or having a regular place to put the kitchen scissors. This type of behaviour helps us have more efficient and pleasant lives and avoids wasting hours of effort trying to find a roll of Cellotape.
However, our Perfectionism can become a problem when we start to apply it to ourselves and how we feel the world should treat us. For instance, when the mechanism of the subconscious (which builds our map of the world and the everyday rules for living), starts to create rules which build an unrealistic expectation about the world around us and the way it should (must) treat us.
If we aren’t careful, we can begin to construct unrealistic rules for ourselves and then try to live by them, expecting the world to treat us well in return. Examples of these beliefs could be “I should never turn down the chance of doing something” or “It must be 100% right. Not even a tiny error is acceptable” or “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he really values my contribution”.
The result of creating these types of rule is that you put a massive amount of pressure on yourself and those around you to deliver something which is, in reality, unachievable.
“I should never turn down the chance of doing something” means that instead of having a varied and interesting life you are manically running/driving from one event to another. Getting up early to get somewhere; leaving that event early to get somewhere else; frantically changing clothes for the next activity; driving furiously to get somewhere else; always looking at the clock, cursing buses, trains and planes for being late; fretting and agitated in traffic jams; dragging friends and family around behind you in a frantic hurry to get somewhere and do something else rather than the thing you are actually doing!
Many people also apply this same “never turn anything down” rule to their work lives by never turning down a job or a project. Clients tell me “it’s because they know I’m the only one who can do it,” “It’s my area of expertise”, “no one else can meet that kind of deadline”. What they are really telling me is that their employer is exploiting their mistaken belief. The Manager handing out the work probably thinks that my client is a mug for taking on more and more work; that they don’t really care what happens to one of their team when they eventually break down. That as long as the job gets done and the Manager looks good, they’ll keep on piling on the work. If it all goes wrong, they can blame the overworked and Perfectionist who has moved heaven and earth to make sure that they deliver a 100% perfect job.
The self-delusion that one is valued at work and that a company cares still runs deep in the veins of many employees, despite the evidence in front of them every day. They will tolerate bullying, abuse and overwork because they fear the effort of finding a new job and lack the confidence to rise to the challenge of being given tasks without the right training, timescale or resources. The chances are that if your boss never has to say “do it or I’ll find someone else who will” when loading another massive burden on your already overburdened back, then it’s YOU who’s the one taking on the work others have already said is impossible to do in the time/for the money/without more resource etc!
Another corrosive belief is that “it must be 100% right, otherwise the rest of what I’ve done is useless and worthless and I am a useless and worthless person who doesn’t deserve thanks or praise”. No amount of praise can be meaningful to his kind of Perfectionist. It rolls off them as their subconscious mind rejects what it sees as hollow words from people who “just don’t know how much better the result could have been if only I could have done a better job”. This creates in the Perfectionist a deep well of frustration and dissatisfaction with everything in their lives. They feel bad all the time. They might turn to drink, drugs, sex or food for comfort in order to achieve that elusive feeling of control over their lives. They might begin to blame others for their lack of perceived achievement, or break up relationships or just work harder and harder until they eventually break down.
The payback which comes from all this manic behaviour is often the firm belief that “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he values my contribution so much”. Perfectionists believe this of their families too “because I work until 2am every night cleaning the kitchen the family must love me more and show me their appreciation”.
But because everyone views the Perfectionist as neurotic and unreasonable, they don’t value that person more. In fact, they probably value them less than they would if they just worked 9-5 in the office and spent their time enjoying relaxation with the family playing games and doing trivial things.
As I’m always telling my clients, it’s OK to want to do things to the best of your abilities, but only within the context of the time, energy and other commitments that you have.
If you find yourself under constant pressure, ask yourself why. What are the beliefs which are driving you to be under that pressure? What makes the rules you’ve created for yourself true? What less pressing rules could you create? Are the rules you are currently living your life to actually out of date – were they right for when you were younger but are they appropriate to life as it is now?
Try writing down the rules which trouble you most and think about them. How much do they ruin your life? What would happen if you didn’t obey them? What would you lose AND, more importantly, what would you gain?
Why not take a look at the Perfectionist in your own life, and see how your own work and home life could be improved?
There seems to be a worrying increase in the number of clients who visit me with all the symptoms of what used to be called “executive stress,” but is now more accurately described as burnout.
To find out how well you are coping with the pressures of life, try answering the questions at the foot of this blog, giving yourself a score ranging from 0 for “Not At All” up to 5 for “All The Time”.
If your score is 0-30 then you are one of the lucky ones who enjoy their work and are able to cope with the pressures of life. However, before you get too smug, just look at any of the questions which scored 4 or 5 and think about how you could improve things for yourself.
If you scored 31-55 then you need to start looking after yourself. Think about how you might change what’s happening. You are very rarely without the power to effect change, you just need to find the right levers to pull. If you really do feel helpless, then it’s time to seriously consider a change of job, career or circumstances.
If you scored 55+ then you are definitely at risk. Now is the time to do something about it. Take back some of the time the company is stealing from you. Don’t get in quite so early. Take a lunch break, even if it’s only half an hour. Leave a bit earlier every day. Make it a rule to only work a set number of hours at the weekend – and then only if you really have to. Weekends should be for you, not your employer. If you don’t make changes, then you are running the risk of burnout.
I always explain the process of burnout to my clients in terms of our personal energy being like petrol and diesel oil.
Our everyday energy is like petrol; it is lighter, more easily consumed but is easier to regenerate with a good night’s sleep. It’s what nature provides to keep us fit and healthy, both physically and emotionally.
By contrast, the heavier energy is thick and oily, like diesel. It is the energy which we need to dip into at times of prolonged stress and difficulty. It burns more slowly and we have deep reserves but it is replaced only very slowly. So working longer hours than are sensible, worrying and fretting continuously, feeling frustrated and trapped leads eventually to this heavy energy becoming exhausted, creating a feeling of being unable to cope with anything at all. At this point the brain goes into a self-defence mode which creates a state of exhausted torpor. I experienced this years ago and for a week couldn’t make the decision between wanting a cheese or a ham sandwich for lunch. I was physically too tired to even think about it. I just wanted to sit and either cry or sleep. After a week or so my heavy energy began to reassert itself and my brain began to come back on-line, but for weeks afterwards it was very difficult to do more than just go through the motions of daily life while my body continued to replenish my energy store and restore my normal vitality.
If you wonder if you are close to burnout, then perhaps this questionnaire will help you take an objective view of life….
|Do you find yourself feeling increasingly tearful or sorry for yourself?|
|Do you have repetitive negative thoughts running through your head, especially relating to your job?|
|Are you increasingly impatient with the people you work with?|
|Do even trivial problems become huge ones in your mind?|
|Do you feel that you are doing other people’s work for them and that you can’t take on any more?|
|Are you feeling trapped by the need to earn money but not being able to find another job?|
|Do you feel bullied by senior staff or that you are given unachievable targets/tasks?|
|Do you dream of getting a new job or a new career with less hassle and stress?|
|Do you work evenings and weekends to the detriment of your family & friends, and yourself?|
|Do you feel unfilled by your work?|
|Are you frustrated your job and the management structure around it?|
|Are you angry at having to take short cuts or having too little time to do a thorough job?|
|Do you find that you are too busy dealing with today to plan properly for tomorrow?|
|Do you find that you sleep poorly and/or have stress dreams (eg. trying to find your way to a meeting through a maze of corridors, wearing only a bathrobe to work, being anxious to get somewhere but being frustrated at every turn etc)?|
|Do you feel totally exhausted at the end of each day?|
I’ve worked with several people lately who have come to me with Anger management issues.
Sometimes they had already lost people they love or jobs they really enjoyed because of their flashes of anger or uncontrollable and intimidating outbursts of physical or verbal abuse.
Others have arrived looking stunned and in a state of shock. Often they’ve been told by a court or a partner that they have to seek out treatment to deal with their problem or suffer the consequences. They often have only just begun to realise the devastating consequences of their actions.
Some people realise their problem; others are in denial, claiming that they just have a quick temper – “I just have an outburst and then it’s all over” – without realising the damage it is doing to the recipient of the outburst.
As I therapist I have no magic wand that tells me who’s telling me the truth about the extend of their anger or its true causes; all I can do is work with what I’m told at our first consultation and then explore possible causes arising from upbringing, life experiences etc. as we progress.
Anger has many causes. Sometimes an individual might have an ongoing psychotic mental health problem (paranoid schizophrenia for example) which requires specialist diagnosis and the help of psychiatric healthcare professionals who are able to create drug and therapy programmes designed to help patients control their illness and return to normal functioning. I refer to this as a functional problem, and is beyond the remit of therapy to resolve.
In many cases, however, anger can be the product of emotional trauma, such as being betrayed by a trusted partner in business or in love, or the sudden loss a parent or child resulting in unresolved grief, or the outcome of a sudden traumatic event leading to creation of symptoms of (or even full-blown) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In other cases it can be a learned behaviour – the result of being raised in a chaotic or combative family where aggression is the norm, or is the only way of protecting personal possessions or avoiding being picked on.
I therefore start therapy by taking a thorough Case History. This is only a three page questionnaire but by the end I know everything I need to about the client’s life, family relationships and major life issues. From this information I can begin to isolate and investigate those issues/events which might be driving anger.
In effect, what I do is identify “buttons”. The buttons which get pressed by a partner, or an innocent customer standing in a pub. The words which, when spoken, provoke an instant and frightening verbal or physical attack.
Couples who’ve been together for a while know all about buttons. They know exactly what to say to provoke an instant fight – “You’re lazy”, “You’re selfish”, “It’s no wonder the kids hate you”. But while their arguments might be loud and unpleasant, most couples arguments don’t end up in the casualty department of a local hospital or in the police being called.
My job as a therapist is therefore to identify the buttons and then to help defuse them. To drain off the emotional fuel which drives them so they no longer cause volcanic eruptions of rage.
I therefore approach Anger Management in two main ways:-
i) To straight away teach a client a number of methods for becoming aware of what drives their anger (the Buttons) and then fast ways of controlling rising anger – in effect, changing the response to the things which make them angry – thus teaching a client right from the outset how to keep themselves and others, safe in stressful situations.
ii) At the same time, I try to establish the reasons for a client feeling angry. Often this is obvious; at other times it has been blocked and needs exploration before it emerges in conversation. Either way, I look to deal with the emotions and feelings of frustration, fear, anxiety etc which have led to the anger emerging. These unresolved emotions are the fuel for anger. If we remove the fuel, the anger just evaporates.
iii) Having done this, I then help the client to see their lives in a new way. To notice the change in the response of loved ones, friends and workmates to this new calmer person. How new opportunities arise in their lives. How they become more secure, more loved and valued.
And the therapy need not take lots of sessions. I have completed work with one client in five sessions – the last of which was a session to explain to his partner how we had managed to bring about such a dramatic (and hopefully) lasting change in his behaviour!
One last word. To all those women who think they can change a violent or abusive man. You can’t. Leave the relationship and put the experience behind you. Protect yourself and your children. You must understand that you are a catalyst to your partner’s anger. Whatever you do, whatever you say, you are part of the problem. You will never be able to effect change alone. Your partner needs to be evaluated to eliminate functional causes and then to work with someone independent of your relationship who can use the therapies needed to bring about change – if change is possible. The best thing you can do for your partner and yourself is to remove yourself to a place of safety and to urge them to seek professional help and resolution before it’s too late.
I am often asked if I offer hypnotic Gastric Band therapy and the answer is always “Yes, but…”. The reason that I am loathe to offer an immediate gastric band fix is that it runs the risk of leaving the real underlying reason for weight problems unresolved and can therefore be doomed to failure.
Cummerspeck (literally grief bacon) is a German word which describes the mindless eating which leads to weight problems and obesity in those with untreated emotional trauma.
GPs in the UK are often faced with patients who are desperate to become “normal” and demand quick-fix gastric band or bypass surgery to solve their problems.
Yet having a physical gastric band fitted means making major changes to diet (for instance having to avoid anything with oil or fat in it or else experience vomiting immediately after eating) and having to accept a death rate risk of 1 in 2,000 operations (the most common cause of death being pulmonary embolism) plus the risk of being one of the 1 in 10 patients who will need a further operation at some time due to slippage, erosion, leakage or infection involving the band.
But of more concern perhaps, is the fact that although the patient may lose weight and reduce the risk of heart and endocrine disorders there is mounting evidence that they may suffer ADDED psychological pressure due to loss of their mechanism for dealing with stress, leading to issues of low self-esteem, relationship problems, dissatisfaction with body image and ultimately, depression.
The same psychological problems can obviously attach themselves to use of a hypnotic gastric band. As a result, I always insist that anyone wanting this therapy also does the first three sessions of my standard weight-loss course. In this way, they have the opportunity to relearn the basic rules of good eating and to come forward with any underlying problems of grief, loss etc which might be driving their behaviour. Having dealt with those things first and cleared or controlled psychological blockages, the chances of a hypnotic gastric band working are greatly enhanced.
In my view, hypnotherapy should provide support for overweight or obese clients in a variety of ways:-
Imagine that you are 6 months old and are in charge of the world’s most sophisticated supercomputer. You have to programme it so that it can move, think, communicate and understand the world in all its complexity. It needs to recognise voices and places, cross roads safely, drive cars, write poetry and music, do complex calculations, know where it is in time and space, experience emotions, interact with other supercomputers and make decisions on a multiplicity of things. How would you go about it?
The ultra-efficient human brain is estimated to have 100 billion neurons and at least 100 trillion synapses. Internal communications happen at incredible speeds as it processes different streams and types of data simultaneous, so that you always know where you are, what you are doing and what your next action is going to be every millisecond of every day. It’s a miracle that we function at all.
Yet nature leaves the programming of this fantastically complex computer to babies and young children! Babies go through the mechanical part of their learning in well-known stages – recognising faces, learning to crawl, walk, run, hop on one leg and so on. As their brains develop, so does the capacity for language – learning to speak, building a vocabulary, recognising words, reading – and for numbers and calculation. They also develop a sense of place – cot, rooms, house, street, school etc.
To keep track of this mass of data they create maps in specialised areas of their brains and unless there is interference from a viral infection or genetic or physical damage, these processes continue right through their lives.
However, one of these mapping areas is created and set quite early in life – it’s the part which gives us our view of the world and our place in it. It is created from a combination of direct experience and what we are told by other people, especially parents and authority figures like priests and teachers.
So, if I am six and I am told by a priest that I am going to hell, that will be put into my map of the world and I will be fearful of that belief until someone who I trust more than the priest tells me different. If a parent tells me repeatedly that I am stupid, then I will grow up with that belief. I won’t try to understand things which I find difficult because there’s no point – I’ve been told I’m stupid, I believe that I’m stupid, so it’s a waste of energy to try. And so a cycle of self-defeating behaviours begins at a very early age.
A child has no other reference point other than what they are told, so they are extremely vulnerable to deliberate or unintentional implanting of ideas and beliefs. These ideas will then continue throughout childhood and into adulthood, affecting self-esteem, relationships, work, creativity and everything to do with their ability to achieve their full potential as well-rounded individuals.
And it’s not just young children who are vulnerable. Those in early teenage years are equally at risk. This year alone I have seen one good-looking, highly intelligent under-achiever who has convinced himself that he needs to have his jaw shortened because he was told by a class mate when he was 13 years old that his jaw protruded. It doesn’t. But he now suffers body dysmorphia, and sees a protruding jaw that isn’t there every time he looks in a mirror. Now in his early 20’s he’s determined to find a plastic surgeon who will agree to saw his jaw in half and move it back a few millimetres so that these wounding words from a 13-year-old child (which he replays hundreds of times a day in his head) can be exorcised from his mind.
I’ve also dealt successfully with an attractive girl who had been told as a young teenager that she was too ugly for anyone to love her. Again, those words impacted so strongly on her inner world map that she suffered anxiety and depression right through her 20’s. When I first saw her she was dressed in a baggy grey track suit and her body language was one of hiding and not wanting to be noticed. Three sessions later she bounced into my consulting grinning widely having bought a bright pink dress and feeling on top of the world. She said that people had noticed how much happier she seemed and how things at work which she’d found depressing had suddenly started to improve for the better. All because we had redrawn that part of her internal mind map which contained her view about herself, the way she looks and the way in which she then relates to the world. Simply replacing it with a true picture of how she really is.
So, consider what you say to children. If they do something stupid, they need to be corrected. But pushing a wire coat hanger into a lit electric fire is “a stupid thing to do” but it doesn’t make the child stupid. Similarly, continuously praising a child is almost as bad as being continuously critical. Being critical makes them feel they will always fail; continuous praise makes them believe that they can never fail. Either is an unrealistic model of the world to present to a child and gives them unrealistic expectations of life.
So, if you come across people who seem to be overly negative or have no enthusiasm for life or who give up before they begin, just consider how they view themselves. Don’t judge them as lazy or stupid. Perhaps their internal map of the world is distorted through no fault of their own.
It staggers me how many people suffer from low self-esteem as a result of teasing by schoolmates, family or friends about their weight, perceived physical defects (which are in reality minute or non-existent), their looks or their intelligence. These throwaway comments, often made in the heat of the moment, will have been forgotten a week later by the perpetrator but are revisited over and over again by the victim for years and years afterwards, shaping and distorting their view of themselves and the way they live their lives.
As adults we often forget just how fragile the evolving ego of a child is. Particularly in their early teens when they are beginning to individuate themselves – trying to find out who they are what they are capable of doing and imagining what they might be in the future. A careless word, a running joke in the family, a critical response to a failure – anything in fact which a child might take as marking them out as different or deficient -can go straight to the heart of their view of the world and themselves, causing a lifetime of damage.
That’s not to say that we should never say negative things to children – telling them when they are doing wrong, making the wrong decision, how they might do something better etc. They need to be helped to understand why something is wrong or how something can be improved in order for them to grow in life. The criticism, however, should be focussed on the work, the decision, the effort NOT on the child. They are not stupid because they got it wrong, unloveable because they upset their sister, ugly because the are struggling with their weight. What they need is kind, loving guidance which will help them to grow as people and to regard themselves as useful, constructive, independent adults who have earned and deserve their rightful place in the world.