A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
As a therapist, I know that trauma can impact people’s lives in big and little ways. Some ‘big’ trauma can have ‘little’ effect, and some ‘little’ trauma can have big effects. I’ve used inverted commas because this highlights something. It’s not really about what happened, it’s about the sense (or meaning) that was made at the time. Whether it ended up meaning something about you, your worth, your power to change things or influence them, how worthy you were of love, respect, good things, kind treatment… you name it. If the traumatic thing happened, and you made meaning of it in a certain way, it lives on in your life expressing that meaning in certain ways until such time as this becomes apparent (which, for a lot of people, may be…. Never).
This week (amongst others), I’m reading ‘Pathways to Possibilities’ by Rosamund Stone Pilcher, in which she shares the stories of people for whom the messages they absorbed in early life had major impacts on their adult lives. That’s actually pretty true of almost everyone. It’s just sometimes those messages are more empowering, and sometimes less. Often within the seemingly empowering lessons, there are subtleties that create a kind of bind. ‘You can do anything if you work hard enough’, for example, could seem outwardly empowering. Yet when someone finds themselves, aged 35, burnt out and wondering where their youthful exuberance went… they might realise that the subconcious message that you have to work hard to get what you want, led them to pursue hard work, and never consider that what they want to achieve might be easy. No doubt, working hard will have had its upsides- perhaps they reached the top of their company, or really excelled in academic studies… But sometimes, that message might lead to them staying in a disempowering relationship longer than they ought, labouring under the Impression that hard work will be the answer.
Yet these things so rarely get examined. There is often an impulsive rejection of the values and beliefs under which we were raised or a wholesale adoption. Either way, there is another path. In ‘Pathways to possibility’, Stone Zander describes the implementation of a thought process called the field of awareness. In the field of awareness, the person does not identify as the individual having a thought or experience, but more as the awareness itself. It’s what my mentor James Tripp calls ‘getting in touch with the ‘I’ that chooses’. On removing yourself from the thought or emotional reaction, the distance can afford the ability to see the reaction as a memory of a time that came before. SO the experience points to a past memory, often of being much younger, in which meaning was made about how the world works, other people or the person themselves. On examination, the new event becomes not so much the truth of the situation, but a pointer towards a memory that could be usefully examined. To do this, she suggests finding the age at which the memory occurred (even if approximate) and what meaning was made. She shares the experience of a man who was not taking enough risks at work, and missing out on promotion as a result. The feeling of taking risks pointed back to when, as a boy, he’d cut flowers for his mum from the garden. The wrath of his dad for cutting his prized flowers had resulted in the childlike assumption that he made bad decisions, which he had carried forward in life until the day he met Stone Zander. On seeing this, he was able to free himself from that belief, and become the field of awareness once more.
I love this concept, and have been playing with it. Perhaps I need to go into it more deeply, because it has great potential, but I do find it hard to self-facilitate this process. However, the principle of ‘child-made’ stories is a key one. Stone Zander states that every time you find yourself sure of something, and having the corresponding emotional experience, there is a childish story at play that could be examined. This I find easier, and seriously liberating. Whereabouts might you have a story about someone that you keep playing whenever you interact with them? What if you gave them (and yourself) the huge gift of liberating them from this, and staying open to the possibility that you might have got it wrong. Reserve the right to change your mind about anything and anyone at any time. A world of possibility awaits if you do, because you get to experience the world in a myriad of different ways, even if nothing changes.
When you separate from your partner, especially if that partner has some narcissistic tendencies, it can be really hard to rediscover yourself amongst all the lies, all the arguments, all the drama. I’ve certainly been there. Then a funny thing happened. I was on a training course, learning to do what I do (more about that here). We were asked to have a kind of ‘virtual conversation’ with someone we hadn’t been getting along with. Seeing an opportunity for some self-work, I chose my soon to be ex-husband. As I got the opportunity to speak to him without fear of his anger or frustration, for the first time I bought my truth to the conversation. Little did I know, the next step was to hear this as I fully embodied being HIM.
As I stood there, looking back at myself, a wave of confusion came over me. I felt sadness. I felt frustration and I felt totally blocked from thinking up any creative solutions, let alone an adequate answer. It was the first time I had ever truly walked in his shoes.
There is great power in taking a third neutral position. It’s even more powerful if you are facilitated to do so by a coach or therapist. That’s where we went next in this training exercise, and as I stood looking at my ex and myself, observing the frustration, seeing the hurt, a fresh insight just popped into my head. A totally new piece of wisdom, as I said to us both ‘you are both children of your families, and it was always going to be very hard to marry those two different ways. You didn’t know that at the time you were trying to work things out, so you need to be kind to yourselves now’.
The simple fact is, no-one wants to be an arse. People’s behaviours are a result of various things- how they were bought up, their experiences to date, any lessons they received about how the world works, that they took on at a subconscious level and now operate from. When we, as women, step away from seeing ourselves as a victim, and instead start to recognise the larger patterns at play, we gain a huge amount of our personal power back. Because, and you might want to take a note of this- the person with the most amount of flexibility in any given situation is the one with the most power. And that, my friend, can be you.
There’s a funny thing about change- the conversation out there in the world would have you think it’s impossible. A leopard, as they say, can’t change it’s spots. That may be true of leopards, but it isn’t true of humans. How do I know? Because I’ve changed my spots, and I’ve seen a lot of other people change theirs.
Further to the conversation, there are also the attempts we’ve made to change that can keep us thinking it’s REALLY HARD. Yo-yo dieting, trying to stop smoking, trying to stop yelling at your kids. There are many things we do as humans that we don’t want to be doing, that we’d rather not do. If we had a choice, it seems, we’d choose not to. Yet, technically, we do have a choice… and yet changes don’t happen… and there’s a very good reason why. Because only about 5 % of what we do as humans is controlled by our conscious mind.
If we kept everything within conscious control, life would be overwhelming. Imagine having to think about every breath, every heartbeat, every individual eye movement. You’d never get anything else done. But along with the physical elements of daily life, more complex reactions, behaviours and even thought patterns become habitual. Making a ‘concious effort’ to change won’t impact these- they became unconscious so you can get on with being you- no matter how much you might dislike how being you is working out right now.
Meanwhile, know that what I’m saying here is that we have huge capacity to change, that it can really be very easy to do so, but that you also need to work on the kind of self-awareness that allows you to see the things that are turning up as ‘problems’ and courageous enough to ‘be with’ them long enough to allow them to transform. I’ve heard people say they really don’t want to ‘go there’ with their stuff, because they’re afraid what they’ll bring up. Which I find sad, because a concerted effort to work on yourself leads to a life of freedom to be who you want to be. And if that sounds good, perhaps you’d like to work with me! I’m a coach because I believe in coaching. I believe in coaching because I’ve been coached- and will continue to seek coaches whose way of being, or ideas, or skills, resonate with me.
True story, I once signed up to work with a coach because whereas everyone else sat on chairs on the stage, she sat cross-legged in front of hers. So maybe you sign up to work with me because I’ve got blue hair… Maybe something I said on one of my Live videos was interesting to you. Maybe you just want to expand your horizons… Or maybe you’ve got some trauma in the background that you’re ready to be free of. Whatever it is, trust your intuition, and keep believing that change is possible. I do!
As a single mum, you can feel a little helpless. In fact, at times, I’ve felt A LOT helpless. Like, properly alone in the world, trying to figure everything out. Put simply though, I was wrong. I have received so much help and support, and when I start counting up the things that have happened, it really starts to flip that old story on its head. Did you know, for example, that if you do further education as a single mum, the financial support available will probably top up your childcare so its free? There are also hardship funds, and practical support, as well as heaps of information. If I hadn’t accessed the excellent advice of the student services at Abertay University, for example, I would have believed the Citizens Advice Bureau’s incorrect assertion that if I went self-employed, I’d be switched to Universal Credit. That wasn’t true, and staying on Working Tax Credits meant it was possible to launch my business. It changed the trajectory of my life, and nearly quadrupled my hourly income. So make sure the advice you’re getting is sound.
Other amazing things have been being accepted onto coaching programmes free, receiving huge amounts of help from friends and relatives, and having people reach out to offer their help when I wasn’t doing so well.
When our minds are left to their own devices, we can tend to focus on the negative. Its an evolutionary strategy, a protective mechanism. Great for surviving, not so great for thriving. Rubbish for getting the most out of life. Because when you’ve got a lot ON your mind, you can’t get a lot FROM your mind.
If there’s one other thing I know, having worked with a lot of single mums (and people more generally) is that you (yes, YOU!) are not counting the wins in your life. Give yourself a high five when something goes well. You’ll be wiring your brain for positivity and you’ll start to notice the good things more. And trust me, if you’re raising tiny humans, no matter how hard you’re being on yourself- there are wins you aren’t yet counting! Over time I've learnt the huge benefits of just... being kinder to myself. It's not always easy, especially if you're swimming against the tide of popular opinion. It IS however, always worthwhile. Haters gonna hate, might as well start loving yourself!