We’ve only just begun…

I’m going to learn to play the mandolin, read Dostoyevsky, and Marie Kondo everything…

This is the biggest change any of us have ever encountered.

And I’ve noticed quite a few folk feeling distressed that they’re not “making the most” of the opportunities presented by the change.

So it seems important to remind ourselves that this is only week two in the lockdown house.

I’m recommending to all my clients that they not force anything on themselves right now.

If people around you are talking about daily yoga practice, going to Zoom parties, redecorating, reading Dostoyevsky or writing symphonies, don’t think you’re the odd one out if you don’t want to, can’t, or else you start and then don’t keep it up.

Why do we think that just when we’re undergoing the biggest change of our lives, we’re “finally going to get around to…” being the best version of ourselves ever? I get that some of us have more time, space and flexibility now, but we’re still reeling, consciously or unconsciously.

Let’s pace ourselves, be gentle, and consider the possibility that introducing one new behaviour at a time will be more sustainable than an overnight life overhaul.

Try being “structurible”…

When you do start to feel some sense that you have settled down a bit and are starting to adjust, maybe consider being “structurible” – structured but flexible. Think of it less like a time-table and more like a slider-puzzle, less like a ladder and more like a climbing frame…

Ask yourself what “chunks” you’d like to have in your day to day life right now to be healthy and content. And each day, shuffle the chunks around inside the time available.

It doesn’t need to be the same combination of chunks in the same order each day unless that helps you feel grounded. Yes, it can be great to exercise and meditate first thing, but maybe you’re not up to that right now (and maybe you never have been and this is your opportunity to drop that expectation of yourself).

But until you feel like getting ‘structurible’ then simply keep one eye on Five a Day… The basics of sleep, food, exercise, work (if you must or want to), and play. These are a good start to getting some ground under your feet. If these five things appear somewhere in your day in some (even small) form, most days, consider yourself to be doing just fine.

Maybe world domination can go in the diary for next week…

I’ve been ready for crisis all my life…

This is something I know how to do

I know our individual and collective responses to the pandemic and the lockdown are going to keep changing. Never has the Buddhist existential truth of impermanence been more apparent, or the need to lean into non-attachment and uncertainty…

But in the last two weeks, something has struck, moved and also tickled me as I’ve worked with my clients (and myself) to explore what this extraordinary situation is bringing up for us.

Some of my most anxiety-prone clients have learned, like me, (one fingernail at a time) to reassure themselves/their nervous systems that “all is well”, that there is no crisis. We’ve deployed a combination of physiological self-soothing with cognitive challenging, or mindful awareness, or radical acceptance practices, to “manage”.

And whilst it’s not true for everyone I know who lives with anxiety, many of us have been surprised to experience something perhaps akin to finally being in the eye of the cyclone.

Many of us were forged in crisis, and now that a real crisis is here, many of us have heard the inner murmur, or even the inner and “thank eff for that” rebel yell – “THIS?! THIS I know how to do. Step aside, coming through, I’m a bloody crisis ROCKstar”

Today I want to refrain from saying anything particularly “therapeutic” about how sad that is for us or how we still need to learn to down-regulate, or how it’s not good for us to be in a heightened state of alarm. And anyway, the whole point is that I’m not sure we (the folks this blog is about) ARE in a heightened state of alarm. Like I said, it feels like the eye of the cyclone.

Rather, what I want to say is “Fill your boots, friends”.

Maybe this is our time.

Maybe we were born for this.

Maybe we are stepping into a moment in our lives where we can thrive better than the so-called-normal-people who we normally feel handicapped in comparison with. Ever pushing the Sisyphean rock up the neverending hillside of Cope.

Maybe we have something other people don’t have – a setting which means we are most at ease when all around us are losing their heads, their nerve and their liberty.

This, this we know how to do.

Government Sanctioned Introversion – what if it’s feeling good to go into hiding?

Isolation, seclusion, retreat, introversion – what if it’s feeling good?

There’s just so much happening that deserves observation during the TST era (These Strange Times). But from all the Zoom sessions with my clients in the last week, and my chats with family and friends, one theme has caught my attention. When others have raised it, it’s often been in an almost confessional tone…

“But I… I… I think… I think I like it…”

Read no further if…

Now. Some of the compunction around admitting this is entirely understandable: our NHS is practically on its knees already and people are suffering awfully, and to be honest, if you’re ill with COVID-19 or you’re working with or caring for people who are, please don’t read any more of this post. The last thing I want to do is offend you. If you’re ill, bless you and I so sincerely hope you get well and quickly. If you’re working with the ill or vulnerable, bless you and thank you. THANK you.

Freedom in restriction…

But if the central experience of this pandemic for you is the lock-down, rather than the realities of the virus itself… I want to know: is there a part of you that has experienced a small (or deep) sense of bone-deep relief to be at home? To notice the quiet outside on a usually busy road? To be exchanging cautious nods with strangers in six-foot-spaced queues for groceries? To be availing yourself of an hour’s walking in your neighbourhood? Or like me last night, to “go” to a social event, without having to leave the comfort and safety of your home?

What I sensed happening for me was the dissolution of an ever-present and never-noticed injunction to be “out”. In the world. For work. For a meeting. Out to exercise. OUT out.

I started to suspect that if it weren’t for this expectation – which seems to be encoded as a basic setting into my operating system – I would spend so much more time alone indoors than I actually do.

Of course, there are assumptions within both the kinds of work that I do, that the work will be done in the physical presence of others in places to which I need to travel. And pragmatically, it’s very convenient to have a separate place to go to with the right equipment for exercising.

But little going out is strictly necessary, in my particular version of life. And whilst I’ve always known how much I love my home, it has never been as clear to me as now that I love to be here alone. And, importantly, that I’ve not been doing it anywhere like enough.

And what has changed is that the current mandated restrictions have freed me and others to be more of our true selves, by temporarily moving the social-acceptability goal-posts.

Grief and longing…

What brought my attention to this more noticeably than anything else has been an unexpected visit from grief. I noticed a tender bubble of it sitting in my chest this morning, and when I gently approached it, and gave it a loving and enquiring prod, as if it were a sea anemone, it yielded a story of longing and deep sadness that this will one day be over, and I will “have” to go back out into a world of irritable traffic and impatient pedestrians and celebrity news and the latest iPhone release.

That the daily and heart-warming shows of unity, creativity, and generosity to and from strangers (this deserves its own post, of course), the quietness on the streets, the new routines of walking in local parks, and finding ways of keeping the body moving at home… that all these things will dissolve.

And like a sea anemone, my Solitary Self will retract into a salty chink in the rocks whilst that more brash, dynamic, wildly-busy, loud-laughing and go-getting self will leap out of her lockdown and rampage her way to Oxford Street or Leicester Square and drown me in noise again.

Circumstance or Nature? Over-busyness or Spiritual Starvation?

I’m left with two questions to ponder.

I realise that it’s possible that part of loving being safely cocooned at home may be because of the frightening circumstances we find ourselves in. Even those of us with no direct contact with the virus know on some level that we are under threat. We are experiencing so much change, and all of us are psychologically affected by this. So maybe right now it feels better than it might otherwise do to be indoors and more inward.

And speaking of inward… The other question for me is to do with my relationship with God (The Divine, All That Is, Existence, Nature, Goddess, Goodness – as you choose). Because I’ve found myself with a few minutes more available every day not just for a little yoga and actually cooking, but also for a deeper time of prayer. And I’ve experienced a renewed desire to connect with the teachers and teachings that have inspired me over the last 30 years.

So, is it that I’m loving this time because I was, straightforwardly, too busy (there’s no-one who knows me that isn’t laughing right now), or is it more than that? Is it that I was missing more than rest; more than greater balance?

Perhaps it’s the case that I was missing God, as I find Her through prayer and meditation.

Perhaps I have been missing God, to use the words of Sue Rickards in her class last night, through greater closeness with my own heart.

La-La-laughing boundaries…

There are so many joys of practicing as an EMDR therapist, and one of them, selfishly, is that I’m convinced the therapeutic effects generalise to me, especially when I’m tapping on my clients.

I had five clients today, and as with a lot of if not all attachment-traumatised people, we inevitably ended up reprocessing experiences of boundary violation, powerlessness to act or speak up, and excessive responsibility for others.

As a recovering codependent, learning to articulate and hold boundaries didn’t always come naturally to me, and at the beginning of learning how to do it, my behaviour was undoubtedly clunky and often bordering on spiky if not down-right aggressive. Eggs and omelettes…

Elementally, I understand that creating and maintaining boundaries requires all of the elements; the earth and sometimes the fire is the boundary itself, or else the fire is the force to hold it in place and respond when it’s encroached upon; the water keeps the boundary-setting flexible and creative, and the air ensures we have perspective and clarity about when and why…

Of these four, allowing and mastering my fire probably still presents my greatest challenge. I’m the girl who wants to put slippers on everyone’s feet. I’m not a natural at issuing a warning growl or small plume of dragon fire from my nostrils. I’ve learned, but it was deeply in my shadow for years.

But today I was reminded of something I’ve known for a while, and that’s that fire is also humourous and playful, the Dervish energy, and that whilst humour needs to be watched for as an unconscious defence, it can also be deployed skillfully, and in no situation better than when a boundary needs to be pointed at with a loved one.

After working with five beautiful people today, each one exploring these themes in their own ways, I was at the bus-stop on my way home, it was late, I was tired, and a colleague I’m very fond of joined me. We jumped on the bus together, starting to chat. Imagine my surprise at myself when he started to offload (his word) – still in a chatty tone – about his day and a temporary difficulty encountered, and I held up my hands, pulled a daft face, stuffed my fingers in my ears and quipped “la la la oh no no no – there shall be no EMDR-ing each other on THIS bus ride – I’m totally done for the day!”.

We both laughed together about it and continued talking “sports news weather”, as one of my friends likes to say, until my stop, where we parted ways warmly and promised to do a mini CPD session together on Thursday.

I felt light, entertained, even skillful, shame free and also entirely free of any of the resentment or heaviness I recognise when I behave, martyr-like, as if it’s always my job to always be there for everyone in matters large and small.

Would this have happened if I hadn’t just processed with all my clients? Maybe. Maybe not.

We need to beware of secondary trauma. But let’s not forget to relish it when therapeutic effects generalise!

The secret damage of lying

Is it me?

Today, I asked my Facebook friends to help me get a handle on whether I could trust the gut feeling I had that someone was lying to me. The thread ended up amusing me a lot more than I’d expected, but there was also something non-trivially healing about hearing a chorus of voices come back to me confirming that I wasn’t imagining things.

I’ll spare you the “he said she said” detail of the event; suffice to say I was messaging with a dear friend and in one of her messages she used one particular phrase, and when I read it I experienced a strong ripple of unpleasant surprise and anxiety. The tone I read into it was hostility. I went back to her to say that I wasn’t expecting her to be angry, and the reply came “I’m not angry at all”.

Lying and attachment trauma

Once upon a time, this would have felt very complicated and confusing, and I would have experienced strong anxiety, powerlessness, and impotent anger. Like many attachment-traumatised people, it’s a really familiar experience for me to be highly disturbed when what my gut is telling me is directly contradicted by what a loved one tells me.

Fragmentation into “parts”

I can almost feel the psychic fragmentation happening as parts of me separate themselves out – the part who knows what she knows and has appropriate feelings about it, the part who needs to please and appease, the part who wants to be open-minded and willing to be wrong, similar to the part who knows she can sometimes see and feel things that aren’t there (anymore). Until relatively recently, the Pleaser Appeaser would win.

Today I got the best out of the online community, and posted the phrase sent to me and asked for an assessment of the writer’s probable mood. I can’t repeat most of the replies, so let’s just say that there was a pretty clear consensus that the phrase read as an angry one.

And of course, my friend may have been angry but entirely unaware of it. Or genuinely not angry and the tone was not the one intended. Of course.

Lying to children

Nevertheless, I’ve been reflecting on and off all day, about the damage done by lying. I don’t really mean my friend’s possible lie. I’m thinking more about the kinds of attachment ruptures to do with the sensing and denial of truth when we’re younger and when the person lying is also the person we depend on, the one we love, the one who knows better.

And not that it feels like it at the time, but I’ve come to see the dilemma of the child in that moment as the dilemma of a child having to choose between two relationships: the relationship with their caregiver and the relationship with themselves.

“If I believe you, that means my sense of the truth must have been wrong; ergo, I can’t trust myself” (and eventually “I will no longer listen to myself/I will no longer even HEAR myself”).

Trust

The worst damage of lying to a child – who is an acutely sensitive little radar for the subtleties of mood – is not that you might damage the trust between you and them. It’s not even that you damage their ability to trust others now and in the future. The secret damage of lying to a child is that you damage their relationship with their own gut knowing of reality; you actually interrupt their ability to know themselves, and the world, and you leave them prey not only to intense confusion, especially interpersonal confusion but also unable to sufficiently police their own boundaries and ensure their own emotional safety because the detection of behavioural red-flags is usually overridden; like a smoke-alarm that we’ve so long assumed was malfunctioning that we don’t leave the building when it’s on fire.

Dissociation

These children often grow up into adults dissociated from their physical bodies, regularly unaware of, or unhealthily capable of enduring or ignoring physical pain, confused about who they “really” are, what they really think, or even LIKE. Any internal information about the state of the organism is treated with mistrust and disbelief or just simply never consciously received.

And the worst damage of lying to an adult who was an attachment-traumatised child is that you reintroduce the self-doubt and confusion that most of them have worked so hard to uninstall.

Awkward honesty

Whilst today’s experience was a relatively trivial one, it reminded me of the preciousness of honesty about the big things and the small, and especially about subtle perceptions of mood that are so easy to deny because we have no direct access to the other person’s subjective experience. The relationships I’ve come to treasure are relationships with people who, when I check whether my sense of their mood is accurate, will tell me the truth no matter how inconvenient or awkward it is.

A few years ago, a client told me she thought I was angry with her in a particular moment in a previous session. We explored the experience from lots of different angles, but before the end of the session, I realised it was essential that I tell her the truth, because I had been angry at that moment.

Reconnecting to ourselves

I don’t think it’s enough to stop at the (always rich) explorations of “and what was that like for you?”, “and what if I said I had been…?”, “and what if I said I wasn’t….?”, and “and is that a familiar experience to you?”. We have a window of opportunity to assist our clients to reforge the relationship between them and themselves, to discover they are trust-worthy to themselves. I think these moments call for the highest ethical standards of congruence, authenticity and judicious self-disclosure.

Poetically put, and paraphrasing Khaled Hosseini, I’ve believed for a long time that lying is stealing a person’s access to reality; but these days I’ve also realised that it risks vandalising their relationship with themselves.

Stop trying to be good…

We all know it.

It is perennial, the common seed, the golden rule, the jumping-off point for every possible path of enlightenment.

We are called to forget ourselves. To practice radical kindness, forgiveness, and non-judgement. This is the only way of Being In The World that will yield sustainable and satisfying peace and joy, and that will redeem our sorry, war-torn, unequal, division-riven world.

However.

Whilst the road to transformation for the arrogant, the superior, the unkind, and the selfish person may be a straight one, it cannot be so for everyone.

For the ones who always had to be good, whose only alternative was to be kind, who could not afford the price of a quick temper, a bad mood, a selfish demand or a moment of laziness – the road of transformation is a dark and overgrown one through a thorny forest away from the sunlight.

Edward John Poynter (1839–1919), “Orpheus and Eurydice”

For these, the journey must be Orphetic. They must descend into the underworld, find the banished self of indolence, selfishness, ill-temper, judgementalism, and blame, then grasp her by the hand and live her up into the light of day.

No turning around to see her hideousness and so shame her back into the ground, but tramping on faithfully through wasted days and god-forbidden tempers. And every time the reasonable voice says “now that must be enough” the reply must be “not yet, perhaps another year or two to go”. Until one day we have finally caught up with all those bastards who have lived this way with none of our own compunction, have overtaken them, by at least a nose, and have found, finally, the genuine emptiness of being only self-absorbed, resentful and lazy. And like a man reaching an oasis after forty years in the desert, we truly want to drink the water that four decades ago we only knew we were supposed to drink.

Only redeemed selflessness, forgiveness, tolerance, and charity has the power to transform. If we have never touched the shadow, those attitudes of spirit are nothing but corrupted lines of programming; living out from them only further twists our insides, and there will be no fruit.

Bad times?

When I was very ill with Panic Disorder six years ago, I was unable to maintain my default position of having it all together, being a source of strength and nurture for others, and being professionally successful. I was a lot more vulnerable, and with it, I was softer, quieter and needed love from other people more often. Being able to receive that love was so heart opening, and let me drop even more deeply into softness and quietness.

When a client – especially one like me: well-defended and high-functioning – comes for a session in particular distress, needing particular love and kindness and support, there’s usually a very beautiful atmosphere that descends on the session; a sweetness and a sense of gratitude and warmth.

Likewise, when someone we love is suffering, as much as we’d give anything to take that suffering away, nevertheless there is an unusual space that opens up for something much more tender and connectful; between us and the suffering person, and between the people present for their loved one.

Traditionally disconnected or distant relationships often experience a temporary break in the clouds while closeness and support become more necessary; while there is a tangible and immediate reason for hearts to be more open.

It seems as if crisis and suffering offer a doorway that allows people to step out from their more familiar or entrenched positions in family, friendship or professoinal dynamics to stand in the street together and look around to simply see what is needed, and offer it.

Some of the kindest things I’ve ever done have necessarily been in response to the suffering of someone in some way close to me, and the experience of being in that position, to give and to be of use, is an experience I treasure. It’s sweet and tender. And the most connectful moments I’ve had with other human beings have been in my own moments of deepest need and pain: like the time I was wrapped up in a duvet and held whilst laying on the living room floor of a house where I was having a major panic attack, or when the director of my training institution came across me sitting outside a shop crying on my own, sat down next to me, put his arm around my shoulders and promised that the college would help me get through what I was going through.

Would I be without the panic attacks? Obviously.

But would I be without those moments of vulnerability, connection and love?

I’ve realised that it’s harder than it seems at first glance to separate the bad times from the good times. Some of the most precious experiences depend on some of the most painful ones.

My sense is that most of the world’s spiritual traditions encourage us to stay more permanently in this experience of openness, connection, vulnerability, and need-met-by-generosity. What experience shows me is that more typically, when the danger has passed, we tend to head back behind our doors, our defenses, and our hard noses.

At best, perhaps our relationships with one another do remain fundamentally changed for the better, knowing that we at least were there for one another, and that we have shared a bittersweet journey.

And so whilst this is the case, it feels important to not miss the deep value of difficult times and to appreciate the open-heartedness that we experience when they come, knowing that the extended and beautiful moment will eventually pass.

Freeze!

I really love the work the NICABM does. Here’s their smart infographic on trauma responses and how the freeze reaction is neither a cognitive decision nor a failure to do the best thing but an evolutionarily adaptive response.

Interesting in particular to note that “freeze” and even the possible “flop” response (so we now know it’s not just fight-or-flight but flight, flight, freeze or flop) is an automated response to the perception of the danger being inescapable.

This is one of the key features of an experience that increases the likelihood of the individual being traumatised by it. And this makes a lot of sense in the context not just of ‘single-incident adult-onset trauma’ but also relational trauma or c-PTSD with a childhood onset. Children are regularly helpless in the face of threat and especially threat from their carers. They are more helpless physically, and particularly helpless for psychological reasons if the dangerous person is also needed for the child’s survival and nurture.

And I’ve been wondering, for those of us with c-PTSD, whether freezing becomes the most likely response as a global survival strategy throughout our lives if it was consistently the most appropriate response in childhood, even if we’re not actually helpless in a situation. If part of what we learn and then don’t unlearn is that we are helpless. Which puts me in mind of the much older research of Martin Seligman into “learned helplessness” as a redescription of depression (Seligman, M.E.P. (1972) “Learned Helplessness”. Annual Review of Medicine Vol 23 p407-412).

And this also puts me in mind – as everything seems to! – of the importance of working with ‘parts’ of the self and learning to distinguish between a surfacing child-part who remembers feeling helpless, and the functioning adult part who, if she can be kept “on-line”, can be facilitated through therapeutic experiences of rediscovering, especially in her body, her potency.

Keeping this functioning adult part online is effectively achieved in two ways. Firstly by maintaining relational engagement with the client during a moment in therapy when a strong experience with historic origins begins to surface. Secondly by encouraging so-called vertical-integration in the brain by having the client observe or ‘notice’ and report their experience, rather than being taken over by it.

I have two vivid memories of sessions with my c-PTSD therapist, working through old experiences of helplessness in the kinds of ways described in the wonderful book “Healing the Heart of Trauma and Dissociation with EMDR and Ego State Therapy“. In one session I described the situation as vividly as possible, and the accompanying feelings and sensations surfacing, but with an emphasis on visually imagining the child I was as seen from the outside, through the eyes of the adult I am now, and then creating a continuation of the event in which I as the adult intervene and take the child to safety and provide her with soothing and reassurance. In the other session, my therapist facilitated me to move between a body posture congruent with the feelings of helplessness and impotent rage and an upright standing position culminating in me placing my hands firmly on a wall and pushing hard against it, to give myself proprioceptive feedback about my own strength and size.

So if freezing or even completely shutting down are familiar responses for you, firstly know that this is an effective survival response initiated automatically by your nervous system. Secondly, it may be a current way of coping now because it was the only way of coping a long time ago, and by engaging with your body and your imagination it is possible to generate new experiences of potency as opposed to helplessness which may well mean that over time, your nervous system will use new and alternative survival strategies in moments of stress and threat.

 

Letting myselves finish…

On Monday night the Guild for Analytical Psychologists hosted the fascinating lecture “Freeing Up Thinking – Sport, Psychoanalysis and Everyday Life” by Michael Brearley OBE, ex-captain of the England cricket team and a practicing psychoanalyst. It was one of those delicious moments of convergence, and I left feeling very excited. In the last five years, my work as a client, as well as a therapist, spiraled in on a way of understanding the self that is shared by practitioners of Ego State Therapy, Internal Family Systems, and sub-personalities work.

The self – that ‘centre of experience and source of action’ – is not one but many; consisting of parts – who knows the number – who frankly often disagree, fight for control, override one another. To quote the poet Walt Whitman – “We are multitudes”.

Michael opened with the final verse of William Ernest Hemley’s poem “Invictus” –

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

and spent the next hour exploring the brilliant idea of ‘self-captaining’, where the self is made of Aristotelian parts ‘speaking with like voices’, and where happiness is given the Greek name ‘eudaimonia’ meaning literally that one is in friendly communication with ones inner ‘daimons’ or spirits – plural.

Like all the most inspired and inspiring leaders, Brearley, as a captain in the world of cricket, believed that being a captain wasn’t just about telling, directing, and controlling. He believed in providing support, for the individual and the collective. In maintaining interested contact and relationship with all members of his team. He was involved. He even went as far as talking about having provided love – tough love sometimes – for everyone. He strove to understand, to value, and also to confront, not for punitive reasons, but for the sake of the development of the individual and the team.

Brearley talked about the importance of participation and freedom, about flattening the hierarchy and inviting input from everyone, no matter how contrary the opinions. Of all speakers being “allowed to finish” without interruption. He was genuinely willing to reconsider assumptions and to learn, and he trusted that any tension and contradiction between members of his team could be held and valued as creative rather than destructive tension and that from such fertile chaos might emerge new and exciting possibilities.

Having written books (“On Form” (2017) and “The Art of Captaincy” (1985)) that explore the psychology of performance and effective leadership, Mike realised that his perspective on leadership could be applied powerfully to the world of internal relationships – with and between the parts of the self. Which takes us firmly into the realm of Jung’s perspective; self-captaining by giving house-room to all the secret parts in order that we might become more whole and experience a deeper sense of our fullest self – of all that we might amount to – and in order that from the tension between necessary orthodoxy and creative disruption might be born new perspectives and new alternatives for action.

During the Q&A, someone referenced Steve Peters’ Chimp Paradox and asked how on earth we are to decide between a course of action favoured by ‘the inner chimp’ and one proposed by what he referred to as ‘the rational part’. Notwithstanding the assumptions in the question – that the chimp’s preference won’t be rational, and that these are the only parts to be considered – this exploration really caught my attention.

I loved Michael Brearley’s first thoughts which were along the lines that it all really depends on which of the two parts one usually gives precedence to and that for the stalwartly rational person, a bit more chimp would probably be a good thing, whilst for the habitually chimpy one, engagement with the so-called rational part is most likely what that person needs to practice more of to get the most from themselves and their life.

But what excited me even more about this exploration was the way the speaker moved the exploration on from being quite “schizoid” and insistent on certainty. His consideration was a real-time example of engaging with the unknown with curiosity. It emphasised the risky, radical but deeply alive nature of allowing all voices – whether they’re internal or external – to be engaged with and to have their say. To be allowed to finish.

It prompted me to think about how we go about ‘othering’ – people, groups, and especially parts of ourselves. How we exile them and how, if exiled, they have little choice but to mount their own resistance movement, fuelled by the frustration of exclusion. There’s nothing more likely to make the chimp even more chimpy, surely, than shoving it in a cage and showing it contempt.

Earlier the same day, I’d watched an excerpt of a documentary about the footballer Ian Wright. In this few-minute-long video he talks about the first positive male role model in his life, a teacher called Mr. Pigden, and how when Ian was acting out aggressively Mr. Pigden would talk to him, engage with him, try to understand him. And how that teacher started involving him and giving him responsibilities around the school, and then when the teacher saw that he was a talented football player, Mr. Pigden started to give him some coaching.

I’ve been left thinking about how scared we can be of engaging with a person who we’ve experienced as only destructive or negative in some way, how we avoid them if we can, and what courage, wisdom, and skill it takes to look through behaviours to see the positive tendency buried inside them. To look through aggression to the power, fire and drive the person has, for instance.

And I’ve been left reflecting on the exact same fear we usually have of engaging with a part of ourselves which we have never considered could have any value and is only to be reined in and held at bay. How frightening it is to consider making space at the table for that part on the assumption that it will ultimately make us more whole if we do. That the part will integrate into the whole system in a way that opens up new experiential and behaviourally creative options for us. That it won’t simply disrupt, and that its dangerous nature is at least to some extent a reaction to having been othered and exiled.

In the end, I walked away more convinced than ever that my role in the therapy space is to provide the invitation, welcome, and space for all of the multitudes in my client, with trust that ultimately if I can be in friendly communication with my client’s inner spirits then one day so can my client. Or perhaps more strikingly, that all of those inner spirits are themselves my clients, striving to be allowed up into the light to find their place at a safe table where they might join together with a captain who wants and needs them to participate, and who knows how to get the very best out of them individually and as a family system.

What a radically different family system that would probably be from the ones so many of us grew up in.