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!
So, you're getting a divorce...
I feel a little like the Dr character in the Simpsons, like I’m about to hand you a leaflet entitled ‘So you’re getting a divorce…’ while I look at you solemnly. The thing is, if you’re anything like I was, you’ll have had quite enough of being the topic of conversation amongst your family and friends. I thought of it like this (in fact, it helped me leave to think of it like this): for them, this is just idle chit-chat for Tuesday morning. For me, it’s my life.
So first of all, I want to say ‘congratulations’. Congratulations? You may think I’ve lost the plot, but I mean it most sincerely. I haven’t managed to convince the greetings cards companies yet… but I think a lot of divorces are really cause for celebration. Yes, it would have been a beautiful thing if the marriage/ relationship lasted forever… but then again, if it wasn’t working, it really wasn’t going to be a beautiful thing. If we put the rose-tinted glasses down for a minute, you can consider this a good move. An excellent decision. Even if it wasn’t your decision, because you sure as hell shouldn’t be with someone who doesn’t value you enough to want to stay. So whoever made the decision, bravo. Let’s move on.
For me, 2017 was D day. The time came in the summer of that year, that I reached a kind of crisis point where there seemed to be no going back on my commitment to myself to really LIVE my life, unrestricted. I had reached the point that I needed true sovereignty in my life. I needed to take back control of what I did, where I went and who I was. Sharon Blackie, in her excellent book ‘If Women Rose Rooted’, says that this is what women really want. For me, that meant ‘asking for a divorce’. In truth, I declared a divorce was imminent more than asking. The pendulum had swung from one extreme to the other, nothing and no one was going to control me now.
It seems to me that there are two paths to take after separating from a long-term partner. One is to immediately start a new relationship with someone else, and the other is to seek to understand your part in what didn’t work, to engage in some self-enquiry and to grow as a person so that your next relationship is more aligned with what you truly desire. I suppose there is a third path, which is to do neither. As tempting as it is to declare total independence and wall off the heart. It’s brave and liberating work to open up to love again, but in my experience, it takes time and a commitment to raising your level of consciousness around how you turn up, your habitual ways of being and the kinds of relationship dynamics that have been present in your life.
It may be that, like me, you have kids in tow. Frankly, if you don’t- I’m not sure this is the blog for you. Here, I’ll be talking about cooperative coparenting (yes, even if he’s an arsehole), self-healing from painful emotional experiences and walking the path of taking personal responsibility for how you show up as a parent, and in your life more generally. If you don’t have kids- Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book for you called Eat, Pray, Love. Have fun in Bali!
Right, now they’re gone. We can get down to the real stuff. Raising kids primarily on your own is fucking exhausting. Though friends may liken it to their experience when their husband is offshore, or pops out for the afternoon… I’m calling bullshit. There is nothing quite like being the only adult in a house with one or more kids so that you can’t leave after they’re in bed (without incurring significant expense or a visit from the police). That's where the journey really began...
3 powerful mindset shifts I made to quit anxiety as a single mum
The first tip I’ll share is to begin to understand that our thoughts aren’t real. Maybe it’s a controversial one, but to illustrate it let’s do a simple thought experiment. Pick any in animate object around you right now. A book, a chair. Maybe your phone. Now, consider that no matter how hard you think about the object, your thought about it will NEVER be the thing itself. Thoughts are only ever an interpretation of the world around us. They operate like a feedback system, so even if you didn’t catch yourself having a negative thought, you’ll know you did, because you’ll feel rubbish! And that doesn’t *necessarily* mean everything is sh1t, but rather that you have been giving your attention to the negatives rather than the positives, or that you are perceiving things as purely negative rather than actively looking for the positives. It takes practice and awareness to retrain your brain to focus more on the positives, but every time you do, the neural connections strengthen and it becomes easier and easier until your brain gets wise and automates it for you!
We have lives that have outstripped our evolutionary development. What does that mean? It’s means that your body is reacting to threats to your physical or mental wellbeing as if they’re literally a threat to your life. You go into fight/ fright/ flight/ freeze/ submit, which are all controlled by an area of the brain called the amygdala. It keeps us safe from things like being run over by a bus, or an attack from a sabre tooth tiger, it’s not so useful when you’re attempting to parent your kids, or working out your budget for the month. There are simple and effective ways to hack this, many of which involve using your physiology to show your brain that there’s nothing to worry about. Breathing deep, extending your out-breath and dropping your tongue to the base of your mouth are just 3 ways of many more that can calm your body and mind, and allow for more rational (and pleasant!) responses.
This last tip is a counter intuitive one, and it builds on the idea of becoming self aware, so that rather than being totally absorbed in your own process, you get to witness and decide... is this serving me? If something comes up for you and you begin to feel tense, anxious or panicky, you can just observe the thought for a moment. Perhaps it’s something about your kids, about money or work, or your ex. It can be anything, it just needs to be making you feel uncomfortable. For this process, you take the thought to it’s worst possible conclusion. If it’s that you’re not sure you can make rent this month, notice what it is you’re allowing that to mean. Does it mean you’re useless? You’ve failed? You’ve let people down? Does it mean you’ll be homeless? Destitute?
When we notice the thoughts we are having, that are creating the feelings and a pretty rubbish experience, it’s useful to start to look at the meaning we’re making. Because remember, if it’s in the future, you cannot be 100% sure it will happen. So all the time spent worrying gets in the way of creative problem solving. There are more powerful and creative questions to be asking, no matter what the current situation, than ‘how could I have let this happen?’.
Take that negative thought to it’s worst possible conclusion, and then question the validity of it. Is it true? What else could you begin to believe instead, that would give you a chance to be happier, calmer and more positive?
We’ve a new week coming. There are going to be demands on your time, your attention and your energy. Put your own needs at the front of the queue. As my amazing sister is a fan of saying ‘their urgent is not my urgent’ (despite being the most giving and efficient human being I know and an all round brilliant person). So no need to be an arse, while knowing that your wants and desires are as important as anybody else’s and you absolutely deserve to take the time to fulfil them. #selfcare #youmatter #youdoyou #loveyourself
Master the language you use, master your mind, master your life!
Do you journal? I find, especially when the thoughts start ‘looping’ round and round with no conclusion, that it helps to get it down on paper!
Not only that, I do personal magical practices in my journal... even my gratitude list works for me in a magical way...
For example- I’m writing ‘I’m so grateful to be aware of some of the subconcious beliefs that hold me back.... then I change it to... Have held me back in the past
This simple application of language automatically files it in your brain as ‘problem solved’ and your mind will respond by giving you all sorts of ways in which this is no longer a problem for you.
Master your mind, master your life.
And it all starts with the language you use.
Claire Standen - NLP Mind Coach
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