Does Self-Help Always Help?

When is it right to ask for help and to seek support?

Magazines, social media, well-meaning friends; all have advice on how to feel better, calmer, more positive etc. But does this advice work? Can you walk, meditate or superfood your way to happiness?

I’m going to give a typical therapist answer here – It depends who you are to begin with and how you are at the time.

You don’t have to be an expert to see that it’s a good idea to take care of yourself mentally and physically. And there’s good evidence for the benefits of some popular remedies such as gentle exercise, time spent outdoors or breathing exercises.

At the same time, encouragement to help yourself can feel much the same as an instruction to ‘pull yourself together’, if in gentler language. And sometimes we have issues to deal with that cannot be resolved in such a way. We may, for example, be stuck in grief or suffering ongoing depression or having to deal with unresolved trauma.

Self-help may also set unrealistic goals for us such as ‘feel better in fourteen days’. It can also make us feel that we must feel good all the time when that is neither natural nor healthy. And, for people prone to drive themselves too hard, self-help can be just one more punishing routine alongside the others.

It is perfectly normal for human beings to feel tired or down every now and then. Indeed, sometimes the best thing to do is live with the unsettling feelings for a little while and maybe view this as a clue to whether we have a bigger problem to resolve.

So please, feel free to try some self-help but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you. And remember that sometimes the best way to help yourself is to ask someone else for help.

Us an Dem

Are you tired of people treating you differently? Do you feel you are being picked on? You may be being othered.

At the heart of othering is the thought that I am being made out to be different and the feelings of discomfort and alienation that such thoughts this may bring.

From our earliest days we are told that some people are like us and that some are not. In such ways we come to hold one group of people to be our group and the other groups of people to be different to us. All of which makes sense in helping us to work out and to understand our place in the world.

There are however ways in which this process can become harmful. Our group may come to view itself as superior in any number of ways – healthier, more intelligent, clean or virtuous – and likewise we may come to label certain other groups as inferior in any number of ways – sick, stupid, dirty or immoral.

We may be told that we are a member of a superior group of people and that we are not like the others in the inferior group of people. In this way, the difference between us and the others becomes a distinction between the desirable and the undesirable, between the acceptable and the unacceptable, between the good and the bad.

In this way we may come to view these other people purely on the basis of what we have been told about them. Worse, we may come to judge them to be undesirable, unacceptable and bad purely on the basis of this prejudice.

Then what can happen is twofold. First we may act out of our prejudice to penalise these ‘othered’ people. This may be officially by passing laws against them and it may be unofficial by making up rude and demeaning names for them or worse by physically attacking them. This leads to the second part, whereby those treated in this way cry out against the injustices they are being made to suffer. They may do this formally on a case by case basis. They may seek justice and redress top from their oppressor while understanding that this is often asking the oppressive group to act against its own members. Or they may act informally. They may politely ask the people concerned to stop making rude and offensive remarks. They may be less polite verbally or they may react with violence against their oppressors property or even attack their oppressors physically.

Stop for a moment and think how this came about. The natural process of separation and individuation developed into a distinction between those who are like us and those who are not. This distinction was used to create a distinction between our group and other unlike group. And this distinction was exploited to create divisions with the intention of gaining advantages for members of our group over and against members of the other group. It is this exploitation that lies at the heart of what is wrong about othering leading, as it does, to prejudicial injustice.

There are many well-known examples of othering such as men othering women, white people othering non-white people, rich people othering poor people (‘the poor’). In each case one group holds an advantage which they exploit to take from the othered group what is rightly theirs.

And what may this be? What is it that people rightly have? Well, good jobs and possessions certainly. But also dignity, self-respect, independence, freedom of thought and self-determination. And aren’t these the very things that psychotherapy seeks to help individuals achieve?

So in this sense, psychotherapy may be seen as the opposite of othering. With psychotherapy you can bring the disparate parts of your life together in a way that makes sense to you and feels comfortable for you. In time you can come to experience wholeness in yourself and togetherness with your family, your friends and the world around you. And in this way psychotherapy represents a process of togethering.

In Spite of Everything

What can I do to stop being spiteful?

To spite someone is to intentionally annoy, hurt or upset them even where there may be no apparent gain, or even where the spiteful actions may cause actual harm. For psychotherapists spite is viewed as a form of self-harm based on a series of negative interactions. This is often related to anger and to withdrawal.

Spite has a negative impact on our relations with those we are spiteful towards. Being spiteful stops us from enjoying ourselves by preventing us having the positive actions we may desire or even crave. This means that spite is corrosive. It will corrode your relationships and lead to superficial or plastic interactions.

There are a number of reasons why you may feel spiteful:
You may feel they have wronged you and want to get back at them – revenge. You may resent the person while being afraid of being open and honest with them. You may feel it is too difficult to talk openly and honestly to them about you’re your feelings. This may be because they are closed, indifferent, hostile, aggressive or abusive. You may be scared to confront them directly. Or you may feel that you are in the wrong and you don’t want to admit this or be held accountable for the consequences of your actions.

Psychotherapy can help you to explore what motivates your spiteful actions. People may come to be spiteful because of their childhood. An overbearing parent or a school bully may have left you feeling that you have no other option than to be spiteful towards them. People may choose to be spiteful because of their position at work. You may be having bad experiences with your colleagues such as arguments about milk, sugar, coffee and tea. You may hold someone to be not pulling their weight, swinging the lead or sucking up to the boss. These may all produce negative thoughts and lead to spiteful actions. And then there are managers or other authority figures who may put their own needs before yours, take credit for your work or regard your time as their own.

Psychotherapy can help you to find a more reasonable and productive course of action. Talking to a psychotherapist can allow you to voice different, possibly shameful yet genuine feelings and thoughts. Talking to a psychotherapist can allow you to work through issues that you don’t want to share with those close to you such as your life partner or those with power over you such as your line manager.

Your psychotherapist will evaluate your circumstances and help you to address your issues by going to the roots of your unhelpful behaviours. Your psychotherapist will help you to understand why you are behaving in these damaging ways. They will suggest strategies to help you change and adopt positive behaviours. One such strategy is to keep a journal that sets down your hurts, your anger and even your shame in words and pictures. Over time you will learn to be assertive in appropriate and effective ways. In this way you need never be spiteful again.

And Never Brought to Mind

The run up to the New Year is often seen as a time for recollection, for looking back on the previous year and on past events that have impacted your more recent life. Spending time with these memories brings up a range of emotions attached to a range of events.

Some of these positive emotions are attached to events and experiences that can make you feel happy and enriched in the present moment. Recalling them is good for you and is something you enjoy doing. You may enjoy sharing this happiness with your family and your friends.

Some of these negative emotions are attached to events and experiences that may still be stressful for you to recall. To remember what happened may even be traumatic for you. With such memories and recollections you may find yourself reliving the past stress and having the painful feelings this brings up.

The sad fact is that you may experience these past events as traumatic in the present and you may come to understand that the pain felt in the past is still with you as the pain you are feeling now, in the present.

So what can you do? Clearly you have a choice to make. You can try to ignore what happened and reject these hurtful emotions. This may push your feelings down and leave them for another day. Or you can recognise them and have them in the present. You can acknowledge the trauma you have suffered and the post-traumatic stress that you are now suffering.

You may decide to talk to your partner, your relatives, or to close friends about the stress that you are having. This may lead you to live your life differently. For example, you may decide to do more exercise, to go to bed earlier, to stop smoking, to drink less – or stop drinking – alcohol.

You may decide that your new understanding requires an appointment with your doctor who will offer advice, support and who may decide that medication is appropriate.

As you pursue your chosen path, your concerns and yes your worries about your future may lead you to decide to talk to a professional psychotherapist. Your psychotherapist will help you to be open about your experiences of trauma, to express your worries about and around this, to examine your current situation and your unfolding desires and plans for your life.

In this way your psychotherapist will help you to form a realistic view of where you are that will allow you to decide on a plan that will enable you to lead a future life free from the stress of past trauma and previous hurt.

It’s up to you. Talk to someone and give yourself the opportunity to live life in the present or stay silent and go on trying not to think about these things.

All I want for Christmas

Happy Christmas – How do you feel when you hear these words? Let’s face it, they are everywhere, all around us at this time of year. And then there’s: Have you done your Christmas shopping? Have you wrapped your gifts? Are all your Covid arrangements in place? And so on and so forth … so no pressure there then!

Christmas is a job, a task that you must do so that you can be happy over the holidays. Or is it? Is Christmas just one huge pressure, an impossible task and – yes – a right royal pain in the backside? And how do you feel about this? Maybe you’ll put up with this yet again because it’ll all be worth it. Maybe you feel you’re bound to fail and it’s just a question of how far you fall short of perfection? Or maybe you just feel sad or frustrated or angry or plain depressed about it all.

If this is how it’s going for you then what are you going to do about it? Nothing? Talk to a friend who feels the same? Find other people who hate Christmas just as much as you do? Well, if Christmas is nothing more than a corporate exercise in extracting as much money as possible from as many people as possible then why not? Be realistic. Pull yourself together and have a damn good moan together.

Then again maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you want to feel better about Christmas and maybe you want to feel better about yourself. Maybe then you feel you could enjoy the festive fun. If this is you then maybe you need to understand what is going on with your desire to set yourself an impossible task while insisting both that you want this hell and that this hell is fun.

Well, we all want to feel good about ourselves and we all want to have fun at Christmas, don’t we? And if we don’t then surely we should do something about this. Sure, friends can help and maybe that’ll do the trick. Have a good moan about how Christmas gets more and more expensive, expectations go up and up, and people are less appreciative year upon year upon year. Then, this year, add on top the tragedy of Covid and the incompetence of those in charge. And finally, share a glass of something and wish each other the merriest of festive seasons.

Or maybe not. Maybe there are deeper needs here. Maybe Christmas brings up things you’d rather not think about and emotions you’d rather not feel. Maybe these things have little to do with Christmas itself. Maybe it’s just that Christmas brings these damn things up year after year and nothing you do can make them go away.

If this is you then you have a further choice. You can do nothing and sit with these awful feelings. You can suffer in silence. Or you can choose to seek help and find support. And the good news is that there is lots of help out there. There are books, internet resources, courses, and self-help groups all available to help you.

And there is psychotherapy; one-to-one personal support, designed to help you get from where you are to where you’d like to be. And there are all sorts of psychotherapists out there waiting to help you. Most will set out what they do and how they work. Some may offer a low or no cost introduction where you can talk to them about what you want from your psychotherapy. And there’s a psychotherapist for everyone. If you don’t like the sound of one psychotherapist then simply try another.

Happy Christmas? The choice is yours.