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Countdown to launch…

The world is wrestling with the tension between a desperate need to continue taking COVID-19 as seriously as ever, and planning ahead for our emergence from lockdown when the time is right.

The ReRe team has come together with a passion for a society-positive, environmentally-positive, mental-health-positive, economically positive emergence from lockdown. As you know from earlier blogs, we realised in the first weeks of lockdown that we were having a shared experience with billions of others. COVID-19 and Lockdown were revealing to us what needs to change in our individual lives and in society – less pollution, less work-life exhaustion, and placing inclusivity, sustainability and care for the vulnerable at the heart of our economic models.

With the UK government announcement due, we’ve woven together our ideas for “Voluntary Lockdown” commitments and a call for a “Citizens’ Charter” and we are poised to:-

  • launch a global movement to call on people to publicly commit to making any individual changes to their own lifestyles they are empowered to make which build on their personal revelations from the COVID-19 and lockdown experiences;
  • launch a global movement supporting individuals and action groups to publicly request employers, community leaders, governments, and leaders of commerce to make new pledges to them, reflecting what they’ve discovered is required to sustain a healthy society.

We will be leading from dedicated ReRe social media accounts, sowing seeds and inviting people to answer The Question – “What1Thing?”, encouraging them to sow their own seeds by sharing their commitments far and wide using the hashtags #voluntarylockdown #citizenscharter and #wethepeople.

Behind the social media campaign will sit what we’re currently calling a Wide Open Space; an online space in which people from anywhere in the world can gather in real-time to reflect, plan and act together. The space will be set up to facilitate members to be entirely self-organising based on their specific action focus. The ReRe team will also create a series of scheduled and facilitated mass events using the principles of Open Space Technology.

Before we can go live, we have to find a platform host willing to sponsor the project. The cost is prohibitive of any platform where vast numbers of people can come together on video calls, collaborate and create documents and action plans. Our biggest hope is that Sococo will come through – we like their set up a lot.

As an important mentor of ours reminded us recently,

“In January, as all of this began … I suggested to colleagues in a conference that what we really needed was a conversation with 8 billion people. Back in the ’40’s a select body was invited to San Francisco and the UN was born. With some notable exceptions, it has worked quite well, but it is now old and tired. We need a new way of having a conversation…”

We’ve written to Sococo inviting them to partner with us, and we’ll let you know what happens. It might be audacious to think we can invite 8bn people to an online meeting, but we’ll certainly the invite.

Meantime,

  1. If you have any other ideas, or contacts, that could help with the online platform, we’d love to hear from you.
  2. Please consider sharing this post – far and wide – and signing up at the bottom of the page to receive a notification as soon as we’re ready to launch.
  3. And most importantly, it’s time to ask yourself “What1Thing?”, ready to respond on launch day. What1Thing will you change about your own life? And What1Thing will you ask your political leaders to pledge to change as your representative?

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Voluntary Lockdown

An exploding clock signifying the old model we need to transition away from

As lots of you already know, the wheels have been turning since the original “Don’t Go Back” piece and since the “Citizen’s Charter” post, and it’s time to say more about transition. I now know for sure that this is slap bang in the middle of hundreds of thousands of people’s feelings about lockdown, and whilst it’s amazing to see great thinkers and writers all using their voices to say some version of “we mustn’t go back to the way we were living before”, I’ve been waiting and waiting for politicians, governments, and business leaders to acknowledge this publicly and make some transition statements and it’s not happened yet.

What they’re [not] saying about transition…

Anything in the mainstream media seems to focus the “post-lockdown” conversation on how to transition “back” to a “normal life” in a safe way. The focus – and up to a point it’s the understandable focus – is on getting the timing and phasing right so as to avoid a second massive wave of infections. But “official communicators” seem either oblivious to, or else silent about, the fact that a massive proportion of citizens worldwide are not just concerned about staying safe from COVID, but about staying safe from an old way of living that was predicated on overwork, underpay, excessive travel, and a chronic lack of sleep, exercise, and play. An old way of living, in short, predicated on exhaustion.

The conversation, which I’m now almost bored of, so regular has it been on Zooms and in Whatsapps and Facebook posts and tweets, follows a predictable report of realisations along the lines of:

A vehicle fuel guage showing empty, to illustrate the old way of being we want to transition away from

It turns out I was exhausted;

It turns out I can’t stand having to get up that early, ram myself into overfull public transport and fight with my elbows out, hating everyone around me, to go and sit at a desk for way too long with a bunch of other deeply exhausted people;

It turns out that when I don’t have to do that, I still get my work done, with a clearer head;

It turns out that when I don’t have to do that, I get some time back, and I get some energy back. To – you know – sleep better. Exercise. Actually ENJOY my family. PLAY with them. I have time and energy to prepare better food. I’ve discovered paths and routes and even hillsides and fields and beaches and riversides. I’ve had sun on my skin and good air in my lungs. And I can’t believe it, but I’ve still got energy left in the evenings and weekends to do stuff that’s creative. Or political;

Having the energy to fight for humane change…

And that’s a really important thing to notice. To notice how, amongst all the other ways of keeping a population toothless and docile, exhaustion is particularly effective.

A workers unite style logo with the word "STRENGTH" indicating that we're ready to transition towards something collectively inspired

Now that I’m working from home, balancing work with life admin; now that I’m healthier for the extra hour of sleep, all the exercise, all the fresh – FRESH – air; now that my lungs aren’t so polluted and I’ve been able to eat homemade food… I’ve got time and energy to fight to transition to a healthier way of living not just for myself but for other people too. To fight for what is so far from luxury. I was so exhausted from fighting with myself to get up and get on a train there was no fight left in me for activism. Or love;

Now I’ve got time and energy to stand up for, celebrate and support not just my loved ones but my neighbours and even people who I’ve never met but owe my health and even my life to.

I don’t know who “They” are, but They stole my time and my energy and my money and I had to use what I had in ways that were narrow, selfish and survivalist. And I’m a relatively well off, well educated, middle-class, middle-aged woman without kids living in a two-income household. I AM The Entitled, and yet even I wasn’t even close to getting what we should ALL be entitled to.

Doesn’t this come down to human rights??

Why aren’t “They” stating now, clearly and repeatedly – “We’re going to transition by building on what we’ve discovered about being a healthy society. Those of you who can work from home, stay there. Business owners, make transition plans now to sustain this. Everyone, support your local economies. Use and create new businesses where you live. Stay on your feet, off your backsides, out of your cars, and away from the airport. Stay in your homes, in your neighbourhoods. Stay connected with the people around you.”

Transforming socio-economic divides…

The main illustration from Doughnut Economics, an economic model for transitioning to a more humane and inclusive social economy

And of course there’s more. Everything above is squarely within the confines of, as I said, Middle Class Entitlement. Of course there are other critical transition conversations needed: universal living wages; affordable housing with enough actual space for a family, with access to nature, leisure, amenities, and fresh food. Proper funding for what we’ve just had to depend on for our very survival. Diversity in supply chains with some swing back towards localisation. Clean air and freely flowing roads. Business strategies where profitability is balanced against sustainability, including for its employees. Where morality and conscience aren’t dirty or irrelevant words.

Please join us for a Normality Shift…

And so… A growing collection of people is working to launch a global, virtual, rolling working group using Open Space Technology where we can turn realisations into transition plans, actions and new realities. And we’re going to need you. Whether you’re a schoolchild, a grandfather, a social economist, a builder, someone with a long-term illness dependent on social funding and care, self-employed, a business leader, or a fruit picker.

If you want to use some of your precious time and energy to help work for a more sustainable lifestyle for you, your neighbourhood, your company, your constituency… use the form below to add your name to the Voluntary Lockdown: A Citizens’ Charter mailing list and as soon as the platform is built and the global working group is ready to be launched, you’ll be invited.

And in the meantime, please consider sharing this post with anyone who you think will or should be interested in how we transition, including local business owners, councillors, and co-workers. We’re looking forward to seeing you all very soon.

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A citizens’ charter…

How quickly things unfold…

Today I’ve caught glimpses of the news, reported so matter of factly, with footage of Austrian shop managers cleaning their glass doors and posting SALE signs, and labourers in Italy starting to return to empty-looking building sites. The reporting isn’t jubilant; it’s definitely muted. But so far (and please tell me if you’ve heard or seen differently on any mainstream stations) there’s been no mention of a vast number of people all over the world saying to one another that they don’t want to lose the goodness they’ve found amidst the chaos and distress of the COVID lockdown.

Is it possible that there will simply be some unceremonious trickle and shuffle towards the closest possible approximation we can make to our old routines? If our mainstream journalists aren’t going to pick this up, and neither our government or any of the other parties, in the next few days, then I feel very strongly moved, despite having not the faintest idea of how to do it, to start the drafting of something like (this whilst doing dishes just now) a universal citizens charter.

To set out the rough outlines of what we’ve discovered we need to stay connected with our humanity, and what we’ve realised has threatened and eroded it. And with a rough proposal in place, to start getting it out to business leaders, councillors, government officials, UN representatives, journalists…

I feel somewhat naive, awkward, embarrassed – not least because I know a lot of “this” is going to be to do with economics, and you may as well ask me about quantum mechanics. But I won’t pretend otherwise, and I know there are plenty of people out there who do know what they’re talking about, and will be able to articulate something regular people can all get to grips with. I’ve not felt like this before – I just know that it’s going to be too late very very soon, the pendulum is starting to swing.

I am willing to be fairly radical in adopting a new lifestyle for myself, but if enough of us are really powerfully feeling that this is the time to keep our feet planted and insist on keeping a firm grip on a new way of living, then we’d do well to do it together.

Will you help?

Let me know if you care about this too. Share this post. Comment with your ideas for a charter, your ideas for who needs to drive this, your encouragement…

I’m going to give it one or two days and then I’m going to write to the CEO of the organisation I work for, to the UK and European associations / accrediting bodies for my profession, to my local councillor, to local employers and anyone else immediate to me who I suspect might want to be part of forming new norms to take over from the assumptions and injunctions we were living by “B.C.”, and instead orient our society towards deep psychological, economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

I don’t think I can go back…

I was out walking in the woods near my home when a message came in from my best friend:

“We are locked down for at least another three weeks”

It was what I needed to pop the bubble of grief that had been stuck halfway up my chest all day, and I sat down on a low branch and had a cry.

I’ve been feeling frustrated with the expression “when things get back to normal”. Firstly because there is no “back”. There is always only ever “next”; only “forward”. Maybe the right word semantically is “resume”. But more than semantics and chronology, it will surely be impossible to pick up where we left off because individually, collectively, economically, socially -we are all being changed by This. The effects of this virus have been far beyond biological; it has reached into the existence of every single organism on our planet. Into eco-systems, stock exchanges, air quality, family dynamics, neighbourhood networks, supply chains, and Prime Minsters’ experiences of love…

The effects of this virus have reached into and mutated my will for the future. Because even if it were A Thing, I don’t think I could go back. And yet I feel very scared that nevertheless, I will. That I will choose to. That I will be expected to. Needed to.

I’ve been attempting to figure out whether my reaction to Lockdown is best characterised in terms of the relieved emergence of my ‘secret introversion’, or whether it perhaps reveals that I was personally burning out. But exploring this with my closest friends, and reading some of the truly brilliant articles cropping up online like here, here and here, it seems that I am far, far from alone.

I cried just now out of pure relief that I have at least another three weeks of living this much smaller, quieter life, where I exercise on my gym mat daily, pray daily, cook daily, and weave a dance from 8am to 8pm between online sessions with clients and hanging the laundry out, preparing for the next session and taking care of personal admin, listening to a CPD recording and walking up the hill and through the woods behind the house. Where I sleep till 7 not 5. Where I wake naturally not yanked by the hair by my alarm clock. Where I have enough energy, it seems (and I didn’t know it was because I was too tired; I thought I just secretly didn’t really want to do it), to go dancing (in my front Zoom), to chat across the fence to my neighbours, to join in online social events, and yes, like everyone else, to bake (hence the daily exercise on my mat…).

I also feel scared, and really angry.

I don’t know who precisely to be angry with. Economists? The leaders of the Industrial Revolution? Myself? The Man? The best analogy I can think of is the frog in the saucepan thing. It’s like I was one of – we were – the frogs in Frog Boiling Experimental Group B, happily swimming around in water that was actually getting hotter and hotter.

Acclimitising, rationalising, dissociating, denying, entirely unaware that I was being boiled alive, when someone accidentally knocked the saucepan off the stove. Now I’m on the kitchen floor, shocked, experiencing the relief of the absence of something I didn’t even know I didn’t want. But up above my head, I can see someone preparing a fresh saucepan of water, and I don’t know where the door is.

As always, with all my “lockdown” posts – I know I’m not speaking for frontline workers, the sick, the people who’ve lost loved ones, or their income. But I do think I might be speaking for an incomprehensibly large number of people across the globe who have been accidentally handed the balance in their life, and the reordering of their priorities, that they’ve been bone-deep longing for as long as they can remember.

And I don’t know what to do, but I don’t see how I can willingly climb back into the saucepan. Since I was in my late teens and early twenties, nothing has affected me enough to elicit a resistance-level-conviction in me that I would lay down in the road, chain myself to a railing, or go on strike to honour.

But if there’s a Don’t Go Back movement, I’ll be there at the railings on the day the lockdown is lifted. I am worse than ignorant when it comes to economics, but I refuse to believe there isn’t an economic recovery model that insists on preserving balance, dethroning the tyrant of unfettered profit and unmoderated growth, and refusing to rely on exploitation.

And that’s exploitation writ large and writ subtle, in the form of middle class overworking and modern-sense resistant stigmatising of the basic need for time to do anything other than work sleep and repeat with a good measure of feeling you’ve failed because you still didn’t call your Dad, do any exercise, or eat anything that wasn’t straight out of a packet.

As any recovering addict knows, pain is the touch-stone of growth, and desperation is a gift. We have been forced into a change that no business or political party and very few individuals would choose unless their back was against the wall. But now that we’ve seen, will we allow ourselves to forget what we discovered? Will we allow ourselves to forget what it was like to have time for living? It’s not the moon on a stick. I’m not campaigning for the right to crotchet tofu three times a day or advocating that we all sit in the lotus position until our joints dissolve into enlightened stardust, and neither am I championing sitting on ever expanding home-baked backsides watching Neflix either.

I just think it’s ok for us to insist on having time, and clean enough air, to breathe.

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.