Category Archives: family

From the therapy room: Freeing the inner child

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Although I mostly work with adults, much of my work concerns children. Yes – children of all ages – toddlers, shy pre-schools, unruly sulky teenagers. These children come to me hidden within adult bodies and desperately needing help. I already wrote more than once about the importance of healing your inner child to set yourself free to lead a happier and a more fulfilling life as an adult. You may check out:

Healing our inner child

Redeeming the sparks or Children frozen in time

Recognizing Childhood Trauma

This blog post, however, is extra-special, as here I hand over to one of my clients who tells about a transformational encounter with his inner child that happened during one of our sessions. We used a technique that I call ‘time-travelling’ and that I found to be very effective in rescuing lost children (and lost adults!). It is a very moving and powerful story and I am grateful to the author for sharing it with us.

Let the sand flow!

For many years I was creatively blocked, as if something was frozen within me. When people talked of “feelings”, I had no idea what they meant. It was like a foreign language. It was if they were all in the normal world together, and I was isolated, having somehow missed that day at school. Looking back now it seems as if something was struggling within me, like a bird beating against a cage wanting to break free. But setting it free was frightening. The conflict produced terrible headaches that stopped me in my tracks, forcing a movement in a new direction, and eventually, very reluctantly, prompted by an osteopath, I decided to try therapy. It turned out to be an incredible journey for me, still unfolding, but I won’t talk about it all today. I want to talk about one little episode to which I kept returning over and over again through many sessions.

One day at school (I must have been about 4 or 5) I’m in a sand pit with some friends. We’re throwing the sand around, and I take a cup, fill it full of sand, and pour it over my ears. I’m amazed at this experience. It feels so wonderfully pleasurable, the smooth flow of the sand, almost like water, but more exciting in its sense of material weight pressing in, the warmth enclosing me, and every moment of the flow so fascinating in its own way. I can feel every individual grain of that sand – each one is different, unique, itself, felt so sensitively – and yet it’s all still  connected, all one, simple and easy. I can’t let go of the feeling all day. Can’t wait to get home to my Mum and Dad so I can share this wonderful thing, this brilliant new secret I’ve discovered with them. As soon as I get in the door, I tell them in a rush, so excited I can hardly get the words out.

In the silence that follows it slowly begins to dawn on me that something is not quite right. Then I notice my father’s grim face and my mother’s eyes wide with fear.

“You were pouring sand over your… ears? Let me look at them.” She gets hold of me, pushes away my hair and twists my ear rather sharply, causing me to gasp in pain.

“Do you realise you could have damaged the inside parts – they’re very delicate – and become deaf for your whole life?” says my Dad. “You never think, do you? Nothing matters to you, you’re so irresponsible.”

Mum looks away from me, almost tearful, and so very disappointed, as if our world has collapsed. “Make sure, you never do it again.”

After this the sand instantly transforms from a thing of joy and beauty to one of stressful anxiety and danger. And with that a nagging crippling fear enters my heart. It is a fear of letting go to the creative flow within me, something of my very own, just experienced simply for its own pleasure.

“Are you seeing that sand pit now?” The voice of the therapist reaches me.

“Yes, I do,” I reply.

“And the little boy, is he still there?” says the therapist.

“Yes, he is there .. he looks rather sad .. and alone..”

“Why don’t you talk to him?” urges the therapist.

“What do you mean?” I simply don’t know how to do this.

“Go and talk to him!” she coaxes.

“And what shall I say?” I need my lines worked out in advance, I always have.

“Don’t worry about that .. just talk to him, he needs you.”

The therapist wants me to dive in and connect, take a risk. The boy sits listlessly in the sand pit, absently trailing his hand through the sand. I approach, and stand watching, my mind frozen with confusion. It’s hopeless.

“I don’t know what to say to him.”

The therapist reassures me. “You do, look, he is so sad ..”

I decide to at least have a go. “Hello.” The boy mutters something, looking away. “How are you?” No response from the boy. “Look, it’s alright to play with the sand, but you must be responsible ..”

The therapist intervenes. “Is that how you talk to a child!?”

The hopelessness bubbles up. “I don’t know how to talk to a child!”

The therapist replies. “You do!”

I kneel down to the child’s level, at the side of the pit, and start trailing my hand in the sand like he is doing. “It’s nice isn’t it?”

The boy mutters “I can’t …”

I reply “You can’t do what?”

The boy looks away again “Play …”

I escape back to the therapist. “But I can’t tell him it’s alright, it’ll damage …”

The therapist still refuses to give me my lines, trusting me to do it on my own. “Just connect with him, communicate…”

I turn back to the boy, with a bit more confidence. “Ok .. what’s the matter?”

The boy replies “I can’t …”

I continue to trail my hand in the sand, mimicking his movements. I try and connect. “You know, it’s so nice … I like playing with the sand, I’m always doing it …”

Something is changing in me now, I’m getting him, this boy — I’m somehow with him, on his side, sensing a leap I might take.

The boy looks briefly hopeful, but then shuts down. “Adults don’t play.”

I more boldly pour the sand, higher up my arms and on to my neck. “I do.”

The boy is shocked. “You can’t do that!”

I continue to pour the sand, with obvious calm enjoyment. “Why not?”

The boy becomes tearful. “I did it, poured it all over me once, it was lovely .. but they say I can’t.”

I slowly move my hand towards him and tip some sand gently down his upper arm. “Who says?”

The boy replies. “Mum and Dad.”

I gently ask. “Why not?”

The boy whispers. “It’ll damage my ears, I was bad …”

I slowly move my hand full of sand up to his ear, and let a little trickle down it. He flinches slightly, but feels the pleasure again. “Look, isn’t it lovely?”

I then trickle sand over my ears as well. “You can’t .. adults don’t ..” the boy says.

I continue to steadily trickle the sand over our ears. “I do”, I tell him.

The boy is unsure, but doesn’t move away. He’s sensing the initial thrill the sand gave him, once again.

I feel I’m getting it now, really connecting. “They don’t understand about sand, about play,” I tell him.

The boy sadly acknowledges this now. “No ..”

We hold each other with a calm and warm eye contact. “That’s alright,” I say quietly.

The boy is still unsure. “Is it?”

I feel I’m truly with the boy now, feeling with him effortlessly. “They just don’t get how lovely it is, like we do”, I tell him.

The boy smiles. “No.”

We now begin to tip the sand over our ears and bodies with increasing abandon. I tell him. “I do it every day, it’s beautiful.”

He stares at me in wonder. “Do you really?”

I feel strong and sure. “Yes! I even carry a big can of sand with me in my rucksack, so I can do it anywhere I happen to be! And I’m not deaf!”

The boy laughs, thrilled. “Will you come back and play with me again?”

I’m loving this now. “Yes, whenever you want.” And I know I will.

I feel so different after all this. Well, to put it simply, I do feel, at last. The adult me had liberated the boy from his frozen state — he’s stepped in finally, and healed the wound his parents had inflicted, by telling him not to trust the flowing ‘sand’ at his heart. This was about giving the boy back his power, and celebrating it. And I’d been freed up too. By allowing the boy to live and breathe fully within me, I’d also allowed the mature me to fully release the breath I’d been holding for so long, and start to stretch my wings. I’d told the boy this, and so made it ‘real’, so now it’s as if I always am carrying a can of sand, in my rucksack, always available, and safe, magical, easy, and flowing.

The sand was a powerful early experience of sensuous pleasure, which was quickly stamped out, labelled dangerous, meaning I came to shut it down, locking it tightly within. Later anything similarly big and pleasurable, like sex, became a problem. But now the boy and the man are together, far more, in all their experiences, through going back and re-visiting the sand pit, and having it out together. They’ve found each other once again, these lonely wanderers. Now they are available to each other, the boy and the man, at their most vulnerable times – the boy helping the man play, and the man giving the boy mature guidance — to keep the sand flowing. They relish the presence of each other now, each being bigger because of the unique and fascinating difference of the other, that they are intimate with, and have strongly included, but refuse to pin down and second guess. It’s basically a simple and strong love affair between the boy and the man, each letting the other off the hook for what they are, each giving the other free reign in every fresh moment. It makes life continually open and exciting, and magically rich.

At last I can start to calmly and fully enjoy each grain, each moment of my experience, as unique and incomparable, letting go and feeling it without anxiety. This contrasts with a frantic rush to a destination point I’ve been obsessed with, so I was never really living at all. In particular I feel this to be settling on a sexual level, where each moment of the experience becomes more normal and comfortable, as I give myself permission to fully be where I am and live it. This also liberates the climax, through it mattering less, to be all it can be, so the intense joy of it can flow more comfortably into everything. So I come to feel that all my experience, however mundane, has a sensuous pleasurable quality, as if now the sand never stops flowing. One cup of sand, continuously flowing, a whole thing. And yet its flow is actually made up of tiny individual grains, each fully felt as a unique moment, and so also separate.

Perhaps there are experiences like the sand in many of our early lives, lying frozen, ready for our return, so they can thaw, and flow once again.

It was terrible headaches that brought me into therapy. They haven’t gone completely yet, but they have definitely lightened and softened. Some of that old oppressive pressure has released, amidst a sense of cooling soothing flow – very like the early joyous experience of the boy in the sand pit..

Can therapy really help to change your life? For anyone out there who is suffering and feeling hopeless

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In my previous blog I spoke about our deep-seated fear of change. Change, in many ways, is akin to dying since it entails ‘dying’ to our old beliefs, our old ideas and ways of being. But change is also about rebirth. Just as in fairy-tales and myths, where frightening monsters are faced and conquered, the descent into our own underworld equips us with the special powers, skills and knowledge needed to make changes in our everyday life.

Most people who decide to try counselling and psychotherapy (or EFT and other forms of therapy) express their doubts as to whether this would work for them. These doubts and scepticism are very natural, normal and healthy. Indeed, how would you know if therapy can really help to change your life? If you have been struggling with depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and relationship issues for a long time it may be difficult to imagine (even if this is what you want) how they can metamorphose into joy, contentment and fulfilment.

Embarking on a therapy journey does require a leap of faith and commitment. It is similar to growing a flower: it takes time, nurturing care, and patience for the seeds that you’ve planted in the earth to bring forth their shoots and eventually blossom. This growing process is subtle and changes can be almost imperceptible until they become visible.

Therapy is not an exact science. Its effectiveness is evidence-based, and from there you can take your faith: if it worked for other people it may work for you. Below I share a ‘real-life’ story told by a client of mine, a young professional woman, with whom I have worked for over two years. It just shows how much things can change, how one’s life can heal and unfold in wonderful ways. I hope you find it as encouraging and inspirational as I do.

For anyone else out there who is suffering and feels hopeless…

My journey in self discovery and healing started almost four years ago when I felt I had reached rock bottom and had almost become unable to do the most simplest of tasks let alone run a business or deal with the family and relationship issues that I was faced with.

I had trapped myself in such negative situations, thought processes and beliefs after suffering great losses, hurt and betrayal, that it felt like I was in a prison I’d never be able to escape from. I was no longer able to trust in the world and people, and had lost considerable hope and belief in myself. I couldn’t see a solution, yet was continually trying so many things to ‘improve myself’. My physical and mental health had become so weak and fragile I felt it would be next to impossible to feel ‘normal’ again and have ‘normal’ friendships and be able to cope with the challenges of life and a demanding career.

This is where I turned to therapy as my last resort. After an incredibly challenging year of conventional counselling I sought out Ludmila because I have heard that EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) was very efficient in helping people recover from trauma.  I will admit it took a tremendous amount of effort, dedication and perseverance on both my and Ludmila’s part but, as with most things in life, the hard work eventually started to pay off and I slowly began to heal from my mental anguish, fear and trauma. And little by little, small, almost imperceptible changes have lead to several major breakthroughs in my life, which I can only fully appreciate now, looking back to where I started…

The biggest breakthrough but also challenge was accepting and forgiving my mother. It was very painful to acknowledge through therapy that my mother was actually a very damaged person. She loved her children very much but was, unfortunately, unable to give us nurturing care because of her own traumatic childhood experiences.

I was always so conflicted about my mother… On the one hand, I knew she loved me and my brother, and she tried her best encouraging our education and cultural development, acquainting us with film, art and performance, ensuring that we got to a good school and later supporting financially my university studies… After the divorce from my father she has been on her own and also juggling a full time job. I appreciate all that very much and I don’t want to wrong her and do her injustice by focusing on the negative things, and yet sometimes it was more than often unbearable growing up with her.

I was living in constant fear that she would blow any second at the smallest thing and scream and shout at me. I became an emotional punch-bag for her unresolved pain which had effectively formed into a severe mental illness. This manifested in constant criticism and resentment towards me, as well as extreme negativity and distrust of life and most of the people she knew or met. Constant mental instability, switching from a seemingly rational and wonderful person to a completely irrational, made her very frightening.

Growing up I was unable to fully understand this, I just tried to keep safe within the emotional war-zone my brother and I lived in by forming effective coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms consisted of continually ensuring my mother’s needs were met, however irrational or unfair they were. I placed them before my own in order to keep the peace and try to manage her behaviour as much as possible. I effectively looked after her emotionally in exchange for a home, food and education.  I was unaware at the time that this was abnormal, that I was just surviving and not really coping at all…

It only started to become apparent for me years later when all the trauma of those years and subsequent experiences just became too much to bear. Those learnt coping mechanisms no longer protected me, instead they became undermining. I had been living a life driven by the need to please others and putting others’ needs before my own to severe detrimental effect. I didn’t know how to enforce healthy boundaries and was almost unaware of my own feelings and needs, allowing myself to be exploited and never feeling happy or fulfilled.

Acknowledging and confronting this was painful, but also empowering. It has been essential in re-establishing a new healthier relationship with my mother and other demanding characters in my life. Coming to terms with the fact that I am not the cause of their mental anguish, and that it is not something that I am able to resolve for them, was very healing.

I learned to assert my newly-found boundaries and realized that it could be done in a non-aggressive manner. The wonderful outcome has been that my mother and other similar characters in my life now treat me with more respect and no longer seem to unleash their demons on me as much. Or – more importantly – if they do, I no longer feel responsible for their irrational behaviour.

It was very difficult for my mum initially but over time she has adjusted and it has actually brought us closer together although, sadly, we will never be really close and I will always remain on guard in order to protect myself. Nonetheless are relationship is healthier than it has been since I was a teenager, which has benefited every aspect of my life.

I came to forgive my first love for his betrayal and abandonment. Hard as it was, I came to terms with the devastating illness of my father. I also succeeded in reconnecting and repairing my relationship with my partner and learned to stand up to bullies in my professional life.  Even though it seemed almost impossible to achieve, I managed to overcome my huge fears of exam failure, shame, ridicule, exposure and guilt in order to complete my education and become a fully qualified professional in my field.

But, most importantly, I came to forgive myself for all the criticism I constantly gave myself, for not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough, cool enough… the list goes on… I began to acknowledge that I am not a bad person but am worthy of love and goodness in my life.

Looking back at my life four years ago, I have come such a long way, and it’s sometimes incredible to believe the changes I have made in both my personal and professional life. I don’t believe I would have made it without Ludmila’s help, for which I am so grateful. Her strength, conviction and dedication, her compassion, encouragement and faith in me have been truly transformational.

I haven’t by any means come to the end of my journey, but I am now on the right path and feel able to trust in life again and feel secure acknowledging and accepting my hurt and emotions. For anyone else out there who is suffering and feels hopeless, as painful and difficult as it might be, try not to give up on therapy. It can sometimes feel impossible to ever recover from great trauma and despair, but I truly believe we are all capable of healing and great change with hope, dedication and perseverance – together with a therapist you trust.

Recognizing childhood trauma

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Have you suffered a childhood trauma? Probably the majority of people if asked this question would answer ‘no.’ And yet many of them will be mistaken.

It may seem to you surprising how it is possible to be unaware of such a big thing as trauma – it is like overlooking an elephant in the room! Yet this is exactly what is happening. And the reason for that is that we simply don’t recognize an elephant for an elephant. Instead we see it as an integral part of the room’s interior.

When we hear the word ‘trauma’ we tend to think of a sudden shocking event with visibly manifest physical or/and emotional injuries. For example, surviving a car crash. Or being raped.

People who have lost one of their parents as children would sometimes say it was a trauma. Often, however, they would regard it just as a sad fact of life and won’t recognize that they have been traumatized by it.

Redefining trauma

We need to rethink then what we understand by trauma. I would say this: trauma is an event or a long-lasting situation that has a damaging impact on one’s emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.

When trauma is not addressed promptly and thoroughly it usually has long-lasting effects, which may severely undermine one’s life. Unfortunately, traumas resulting from suffering a long-term emotional distress very often go unnoticed and untreated for years, until some major crisis hits and a person suddenly finds him/herself at the point of a breakdown. It is about this type of trauma suffered during childhood that I want to write in this blog.

Fundamental childhood needs

Contrary to what we are used to thinking, being a child is very challenging! Look what a huge difference there is between a new born baby and a two year old toddler, and between that toddler and a first grader. As adults we don’t normally experience comparable developmental leaps. We tend to live more or less in our comfort zone and won’t leave it by our own accord. Children, however, have no choice! They are hard pushed by the very nature of their growing and developing – physically, cognitively and psychologically. They have very little space to bask in the comfort zone. Mostly, it is an ongoing climb.

When you look at childhood like this you can begin to appreciate how much support children need in order to transition successfully through all the developmental stages. The fundamental basic needs include:

  • SAFETY (emotional and physical);
  • Unconditional affection and consistent engaged interest of their parents and caretakers;
  • The right to make mistakes;
  • The right to express their feelings and have them acknowledged;
  • Positive encouragement and validation.

Probably most of us didn’t have all these needs met equally well at all periods of our childhood. But some people, sadly, had to grow up with the exact reverse of these conditions. Read on to see if it might have been your case.

Traumatic conditions in childhood

Existential threat

If a child gets beaten up or witnesses physical violence between the parents or towards other siblings, the child will experience it as a threat to his/her survival. Similar fear is also being engendered in a child if she or he is being constantly shouted at or hears his/her parents shouting at each other.

The lack of healthy boundaries also makes children feel unsafe. Children need a holding structure, within which they can explore, experiment rebel and grow. Growing up in a chaotic household is like being on a boat without an anchor in the open sea. Growing up with overly rigid boundaries (which usually involves punishment for breaking them) is like living in a prison.

Psychological overload

Sometimes young children are made to carry a burden that is too big for their age. For example, in a family with several children and hard working parents the elder child (sometimes at quite a tender age) may become like a parent to her/his younger siblings. This person will skip the carefree stage of childhood and grow up feeling overburdened by the heavy sense of responsibility, finding it difficult to relax and just have fun.

It also happens that a child may become like a parent to their parents if one of the parents is seriously ill or depressed. The parent’s needs in such a situation become a priority and a child learns to suppress his/her own needs in order not to disturb or upset the parent. The message that the child ingests is that of his/her own unimportance. As adults these children often struggle to express themselves, to say ‘no’, to assert their rights and to appreciate themselves and their needs and desires.

Blame, guilt, shaming

Are you constantly feeling guilty about things? Do you believe it is your fault if something goes wrong at work or at home? If your mother misses a doctor’s appointment do you gnaw yourself for not having reminded her?

Persistent feelings of guilt are a symptom of a childhood trauma. They are the result of the culture of blaming and shaming, of being made responsible for your parents’ problems and unhappiness. If you were told by your mother that she has sacrificed her academic career for you, she was giving you a guilt trip. If you have been ridiculed for not knowing the name of some composer, you have been shamed for ‘ignorance.’ The shame about your mistakes transforms into pervasive shame about who you are. It is toxic and paralyzing.

Emotional neglect

In order to thrive children need to feel (not just know intellectually!) loved, welcomed and appreciated. They feel this if parents spend enough time with them, hold them, play with them, talk to them about things that matter to them and take interest in their activities. If parents are working long hours and are only at home to fix dinner and send the child to bed, the child will feel abandoned.

The lack of caring attention during childhood is like the lack of nutrients and vitamins. It stunts the person’s emotional/psychological growth and impairs the development of strong healthy self-esteem. Emotional neglect and abandonment have long-lasting effect and can seriously undermine one’s life and ability to be happy.

Emotionally unstable parents

Children of emotionally unstable and mentally ill parents are in the highest risk category. There is virtually no safe place for them. They suffer from neglect and abandonment because their parents are preoccupied with their own stuff. They have to tiptoe around their parents to prevent them from snapping and ‘flipping.’ They suppress their needs, while trying to guess their parents’ needs and desires and learn to please in order to get approval. They can’t express their own preference or feeling without having it invalidated by the parent who always ‘knows better.’ If they do get praised it is usually for doing something that reinforces the parent’s sense of self-value. Emotional connection is either non-existent or erratic. Or a child may be made a confidante of a parent and a recipient of their psychological unloading. These children have been heavily traumatized and need help.

Acknowledging versus blaming

As a rule, parents who have failed in their role of a parent have themselves suffered childhood trauma. They deserve empathy and compassion. But so do you! It is not about blaming it is about acknowledging the facts and helping what we can help. It is about breaking the chain of trauma transmitted through generations and healing your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Please help me to help others

This blog article is the most general sketch on childhood trauma. To learn more please follow my Facebook page (Soultap Therapy) where I post links to other literature and resources.

Please share this article with your friends and people who may benefit from this information. And feel free to post comments or write to me if you have questions.

 

 

 

 

 

Nonviolent Communication: How to get your needs met

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What is your habitual response to being hurt, annoyed or irritated by another person? Do you swear? Do you smash plates? Do you withdraw within yourself? Do you tell that person how wrong (insensitive, selfish, etc.) she or he is?

And now think of the habitual reaction that you get from that person, in response to your response. Most probably they will try to argue back to defend their cause or pull away and withdraw, too.

Too often, unfortunately, in our communication with each other we get trapped in the vicious circle of attack and defence, which often takes a form of a counter-attack and generates more violence. And here I am not speaking about physical violence (although situations can escalate to it), but about emotional violence. This type of violence permeates our daily life to such an extent that we tend to take it for a norm and may not be able straight away to identify it as violence.

Marshall Rosenberg explains that this is because we all have been educated in a ‘school of jackals’ where violence is the norm.

I have first heard about Marshall Rosenberg and nonviolent communication (NVC) from a friend several years ago. I bought his book and it really resonated with me, so since then I have been learning to practise NVC and also passing it on to my clients, who also found it very useful.

In this blog I want to introduce you to a few fundamental principles of NVC, which is designed to help you being heard and have your needs met while maintaining good healthy relationships.

 

  1. Differentiate between feelings and interpretations

How our message will be received depends a lot on how we convey it. The words in which we package our message may either help or prevent it from being adequately understood.

For example, let us say that at a party your partner has been speaking to other people and did not pay much attention to you. As a result you are being hurt and upset. Yet when you finally get to talk to your partner and let him or her know how you feel you say “I felt ignored by you!”

Now ‘hurt’ and ‘upset’ are feelings, while ‘ignored’ is an interpretation that entails an assumption about your partner’s behaviour or intention. If their intention was not to ignore you they will understandably respond to you in a defensive way, denying that what you said is correct. Then you will feel even more hurt because your message hasn’t been heard. But it hasn’t been heard because you used the wrong words! If you say “I am feeling hurt” your language is matching your emotions and your partner will be more likely to hear it and less likely to get on defensive.

Marshall Rosenberg suggests that it is very important that in expressing ourselves we differentiate between feelings/emotions and interpretations or assumptions that we make about another person. It doesn’t mean that we cannot make an assumption, but we have to clearly identify it as our assumption (e.g. “I began to think you were ignoring me”).

 

  1. Stick to the facts, focus on yourself and give the reason

Very often when instead of stating our feelings we jump to interpretations, we also omit mentioning the exact thing that caused us distress. Furthermore, we formulate our message in a form of an attack (blame or accusation) on another person. Thus, continuing with the same example of the party, we may express our feelings in the following way: “You ignored me the whole evening!”

From the point of NVC, this sentence contains three communication mistakes:

  • It substitutes feeling/emotion (‘hurt’ or ‘upset’) by interpretation (‘ignored’);
  • It contains an accusation (“you ignored me”);
  • It doesn’t explain what your partner actually did that has upset you.

The example of a correct statement may be as follows:

“I am feeling upset because you talked to all other people at that party for the whole evening and haven’t said a word to me!”

In this sentence you keep the focus on you and your feelings. The explanatory statement, of which your partner is a subject, describes what exactly about his or her actions you found upsetting. When you express yourself in this way your partner won’t feel the target of an accusation or the blame. They won’t feel the need to defend themselves from an imposed interpretation and will learn what to do and what not to do in the future so that not to hurt you again.

 

  1. Express your needs clearly

 More often than we realize we expect another person to intuit our needs. When they fail to do so we get disappointed and upset. A vivid illustration is a story my mother told me about a falling out she had with my father during the early months of their marriage. She had a bad toothache and needed to see a dentist. She was anxious and wanted my father’s support. However, she didn’t ask him to come with her; she expected him to guess that this was what she needed from him. You can imagine how disappointed and upset she was when instead of offering to come with her he went to play football with his friends!

I am quite similar, in some ways, to my mother and share a number of her inhibitions and defence mechanisms (including withdrawal). So I know how difficult it is to bring yourself to articulate what seems to you plainly obvious! Yet it is plainly obvious only within your own emotional system of references. Alas! Sometimes it is healthier and helps create happier relationship when we treat another person a bit as an alien. If they don’t guess our needs it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t love us. It may simply mean that on their planet 2 + 2 doesn’t make 4!

 

  1. Listen to the message behind the words

The counterpart to Marshall Rosenberg’s character of ‘jackal’ is ‘giraffe.’ I believe he says somewhere that he has picked up giraffe because giraffe has the biggest heart of all mammals. (This assumption is erroneous by the way… Do you know which mammal has the biggest heart?) In contrast to ‘jackal,’ ‘giraffe’ speaks from its heart and listens with its heart. It means that ‘giraffe’ listens to feelings behind the words and not just to the words as such.

Consider this conversation between the ‘jackal’ and the ‘giraffe’:

Jackal. You ignored me the whole evening!

Giraffe. Are you saying that I have hurt you?

Jackal.   Yes! I am very hurt.

Giraffe. Oh… Is it because I haven’t spent much time with you?..

Jackal.   You haven’t spent any time with me at all! You were busy talking to all these other people.

Giraffe. And you thought I was ignoring you…

Jackal.   Yes! And I am very upset.

Giraffe. Of course, you would be upset. I am very sorry.

When your child screams at you “I hate you!” you know that it doesn’t mean she or he hates you, but that they want your attention (or something you are not giving them). In the same way we can practise understanding emotional needs behind the words and the behaviour of other people. It is not easy – but it is possible!

 

Video of Marshall Rosenberg’s workshop

Well, this turned out to be quite a lengthy article and we have only covered the basics!

If you are interested, you can learn more by watching this video. Enjoy and have a good laugh!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBGlF7-MPFI

 

Homelessness and homecoming

Have you ever felt homeless? I don’t mean trying to imagine yourself living on the street, without a roof over your head, but the inarticulate feeling inside you that would resonate with the word “homeless”?

For many years – night in and night out – this has been a recurrent motif of my dreams. However their main plot had varied, that motif remained constant: in every dream I wouldn’t have a home of my own. I would stay at an hotel, perch in a corner of somebody’s sitting room among their busy life, sleep in half-deserted dormitories… It was the resonance with this feeling that drew me to take part in Crisis at Christmas when a friend told me about this large-scale volunteering initiative in the UK.

Crisis at Christmas

During the Christmas week the organization called Crisis (www.crisis.org.uk) hires empty schools and colleges and turns them into the residential and day-centres for people who are homeless. Some of them sleep rough, others live at squats or manage by the so-called “sofa-surfing” at their friends’ or acquaintances. At Crisis’ centres the guests receive three home-cooked meals a day and have an access to a wide variety of free services: medical checks, dentist treatments, haircut, clothes alterations, legal advice, massage, reflexology, Reiki, meditation, arts and crafts, drama classes, creative writing – you name it. And just having a chat with some friendly people also means a lot! During last Christmas (2014) 10 centres in London welcomed over 3,600 guests. More than 10,000 volunteers took part in the event, and I had a privilege to be one of them. It was my second time at Crisis at Christmas and, as the year before, it was a very profound and intense experience, which shook me and stirred many feelings and thoughts. I’d like to try and share some of them here.

What is homelessness?

What does it mean to be homeless? Is it a social phenomenon, psychological conundrum or existential condition? Or perhaps – all of those. On my way back to Cambridge I had a chat over a cup of coffee with a friend who teaches philosophy. He evoked Heidegger, the German existential philosopher who spoke of our “thrownness”: we are being “thrown” into this world, without asking for it, without choosing the circumstances of our birth and upbringing, isolated in our uniqueness, struggling to make some sense of all this.

There are levels – and layers – of homelessness. Heidegger’s is the most basic – existential level – a human condition that we all share. Some of us may experience it sharper than others, but we all experience it at some point and have to come to terms with it. Interwoven with it and, partly, evolving from it is the next level: psychological homelessness. By this I mean our needs and feelings of belonging, of being appreciated and needed, of being accepted for who we are.

From the chats that I had with the guests at Crisis I formed an impression that it is when things go badly wrong at this level that leads to the actualized homelessness when a person has no safe place of their own, neither physical nor social. They are literally thrown out: of their homes and of other people’s lives. These are people whose families rejected them, who lost their jobs, their homes, their faith in themselves and in others – and found themselves in emotional and social isolation.

Where does it begin?

As I am writing this, letting my thoughts spin, I am beginning to see the basic experiences of family and social bonding as a buffer that stops the fathomless waters of existential thrownness from crushing through the walls of human psyche and swamping it. I spoke to a young man who grew up in an orphanage; a couple of years ago he managed to track down his mother. She was now living with a young daughter, married to a wealthy man and didn’t want to know of him… I encountered a man in his sixties, who attempted suicide twice, and he has grown up children who hold good jobs and earn decent money… I can’t stop wondering what will become of these people – will they make it through this winter? And the following one?..

My initiation into Crisis has endowed me with a “survivor’s guilt” that I have to learn to accept and embrace. Yet this guilt comes together with the gift. It is a gift of hope. The hope that healing is possible. Of course, it is my own healing too that I’ve been seeking when volunteering at Crisis at Christmas. And I believe I have found some answers – at least for myself…

Naked humanness

One of the most remarkable things about Crisis at Christmas is that it is a place where people (even volunteers between themselves) don’t ask each other about what they do in the “outer” life. The usual questions that dominate most social gatherings, implicitly or explicitly, are rendered irrelevant in this context. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what your job is, how much you earn, what car you drive, what are your degrees, position, status, and so on. People get to know you from an immediate experience of you – through what you give and how you give, through how you interact with others. They get to know you by your smile, by the tone of your voice, by how you listen and how you share. It is the essential qualities that matter and on this level one is able to experience the rare moments of true equality: because even the most deprived person, outside of the very margins of society, still carries the light of his or her personality within them.

We hold on so tightly to external attributes which we believe add to our value. When we lose these attributes (even just some of them) we suffer and feel worthless. But it is when we are stripped naked of all our decorations that our humanness comes forth, shining in its vulnerable beauty. I have already discovered this simple truth through my personal journey as well as my work as a therapist, but it was my experience at Crisis that really helped it sink in.

Giving and receiving

It is very important though that in such critical moments of your life someone will be with you who can appreciate this beauty and reflect it back to you, so you can begin to appreciate it for yourself. And here I come to another crucial notion: the openness of heart. Probably the worst thing that can happen to a person who had been deprived of love and caring is that they deem themselves beyond hope and turn away from help that is being offered. Kierkegaard (to mention yet another existential philosopher) called it “shutupness or “in-closure” (Indeslutte) and deemed it the worst kind of despair.

In order to heal one has to be able to receive. And in order to receive one has to have courage to give their trust to somebody who offers them compassion and a helping hand. So the giving and the receiving are really the one thing – like yin and yang – flowing one into the other and engendering one another. I have fully experienced it at Crisis.

This year as well as the last year I have being working alongside massage and yoga practitioners, giving Reiki. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Reiki comes from an ancient tradition of healing by laying on hands. It is a very simple pure kind of touch (although some practitioners do it without physical contact) that promotes a deep sense of relaxation and helps rebalance emotions and restore physical health. It was truly amazing and infinitely moving to witness how people who sleep on the street could so totally entrust themselves to your hands, how they allowed themselves to be held and attended to. What beautiful, slightly shy smiles I’ve been greeted with when they opened their eyes re-emerging from a few moments of peace and calmness! The gift of warm-hearted child-like gratefulness generously offered. It was a healing gift for me too for at these moments I transcended my own existential homelessness and experienced a profound sense of connectedness – from heart to heart. I wasn’t alone any more, the world had meaning and my life had meaning.

Homecoming

After so many dark nights of the soul, after all my wanderings through the endless tunnels I feel that I came to be more rooted in my heart, feeling safe and comfortable there and happy to open it to others and to life. It is a wonderful and joyful experience of Homecoming.

And, in conclusion, I want to share with you a song performed by The Choir with No Name – a choir of homeless people. One of the guests at Crisis told me about them and said that singing at the choir is what kept him going. Please listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJjTe5DmGso