Category Archives: Hypnotherapy

Can you time travel?

Tardis

I should have done it differently

I wish I had…

Regrets. They are part of being human. Wishing we had done things differently. Wishing we had said something or not said something.

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend of 15+ years died. It was sudden and unexpected. Well, sort of unexpected. She had been ill with an undiagnosed illness for around 5 years. As part of the range of emotions I went through after I heard, I went through guilt and regret. I should have done more to help her. I am a therapist. As her friend I should have helped more.

But she didn’t need a therapist, she needed a friend. And that’s what I was. So I moved on from those thoughts pretty quickly.

We all believe we can time travel. I’m sure you’ve thought back to something in your past and, as a result of seeing it differently now, wished you had handled it differently.

Many of my clients assume that the way they think now is the same as when they were a child. This is particularly true in the case of sexual abuse, where you believe your younger self should have acted in the same capacity that you would now as an adult.

You can’t change time.

None of us are capable of time travel. We can not go back and change the way things were.

Your understanding as a child was very different from your understanding as an adult.

In the case of abuse, you couldn’t have fought back. You couldn’t have run away. You couldn’t have told someone. You were confused, scared, dependent and surviving. What you think now, as an adult, has no relevance to how you thought then, as a child.

The past has gone. You can’t travel in time so you can not change what happened, you can only change your perceptions of what happened.

The future is unknown. It always will be. You have no idea what will happen next.

All you can do is live in the present moment

Have you noticed how young kids have a tantrum when you try and get them to leave somewhere where they are having fun? Did you try and persuade them to leave by telling them they could come back another time? How does that make sense? “Leave this fun thing that you are doing right now so that you can come back at some undefined time later and do this fun thing”. Children live in the present. We need to learn from that.

So what?

You are only ever the best version of you that you can be right now, in this moment.

The past is gone and can’t be changed.

The future is unknown and can’t be controlled.

You can only be the best version of you right now.

To help with this, I find asking “So what?” helps.

Right now, so what?

If you can do something right now, do it. If you can’t, then let it go. Don’t let something you can’t do anything about stay in your head.

Visualise it disappearing.

That worry, that thing that’s in your head. Ask “So what?” and let it go.

It’s not ok

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This week is National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence awareness week.

I spent my whole life feeling like I wanted to die. I felt there was something very wrong with me. Before I was 9 I had been neglected,  starved and beaten. When I was 9 I moved in with my mother and her new husband. Between the age of 10-12  I was sexually abused. How broken must I be that no one loved me? How evil must I be that all these people could do was hurt me?

As an adult I tried to hide what had happened to me. I would have been horrified if someone had guessed that I had been sexually abused. I didn’t even tell my closest friends. When I did speak to them I was shaking so much I could barely speak. When I met my husband-to-be at University we would stay up through the night talking. I told him a lot of what happened,.

My life was spent in hiding. The real me locked away in a black place with an outer shell, an android version, living my life. I was very successful. I married the guy I fell in love with at Uni and we moved in together. My career grew until I was in a senior role working at an international level. This was still not me. It was still the android. I hated myself so much. I was scared of everything and everybody. A simple trip on the underground in London would have me on edge. Someone touching my shoulder in the office would make me freeze.

I believed anyone would be able to do anything they wanted to me so I kept a very solid F**k off shield to prevent anyone getting close. It worked well. Too well. I felt alone and unlikeable.

When I got pregnant with my son I was terrified. People were looking at me and touching me again and I would just freeze every time. He was born prematurely and died after 30 days. Now, to add to all the reasons I already had to hate my body, I had killed my baby and I hated it even more.

Despite this I got pregnant again. This time all was fine and my daughter was born. She was amazing. I was determined not to screw her up in the way I had been screwed up. When she was 3 she started asking me if I was happy. No matter how many times I told her I was, she kept asking. I realised that I was in serious danger of screwing her up. That was not going to happen. It was ok for me to be screwed up, it was not ok for her to be.

So I found a Cognitive Hypnotherapist in London called Trevor Silvester. I was wary. In a room with a strange man who would ask me to close my eyes. Not going to happen. During the abuse I would close my eyes and hide in my head. He could do what he wanted to my body but he would never touch my head. Not true but what I believed.

So I took a friend to the first session.

After the first session there was a release. The critical voice in my head was quiet. I began to believe that maybe I could be ok.

Over a few sessions loads changed. For the first time in my life I could say I was happy. I stopped wanting to die. I realised that everything in my life had led me to this point and I trained to be a Cognitive Hypnotherapist myself. Still, I dreaded that anyone would learn about the sexual abuse. One day, while walking through the park with Trevor on the way to my Cognitive Hypnotherapy course, he told me that there would come a time where I would remember what happened in a different way. I would realise that it had helped me become who I was. I started shaking at the thought. It seemed at that time, that people knowing I had been abused would be the worst thing ever.

I blogged my journey, but only from my head and thoughts. I never wrote about what happened. Trevor mentioned that people would be able to work it out. I was horrified. Then, after a couple of years and a few more sessions, I realised it didn’t matter if people knew. I had reached the place where I knew it was never about me.

I contacted the NSPCC and reported my abuser for historical abuse. They passed it on to the police.

Within a week 2 police officers came to my house and did an initial interview. It was awful. Really really awful. Little did I know that it would be nothing in comparison with what I would have to go through over the next 2 years. I eventually did a face to face interview, and later an interview on video. I spoke through details of what had happened in a way that I never believed I would. There were a number of occasions where I shut down and was no longer able to speak. But I came back. And I did it. All thanks to the help from Trevor. I had reached a point where I could talk about everything.

The CPS were almost certain they would get a conviction on the basis of my video evidence. They were amazed at how much I was able to talk about. I don’t think they’d met anyone who could do that before. They even asked about the Cognitive Hypnotherapy – curious about the impact it had on my ability to speak.

In May last year I went to court. I had special measures – screens between me and him so I never needed to see him. I sat in a video room while the jury watched my video evidence. Apart from switching off my son’s incubator, this was by a long shot the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had to sit and relive every single detail of being abused while others watched. But I did it. So that we could get the verdict. So he could be prevented from abusing others. I am almost positive he has abused others and have carried the guilt of this my whole life. I should have spoken out. I should have protected others. But I couldn’t. If he had been dead I wouldn’t have needed this process. But I wanted to protect others – and maybe act as a voice for those incapable of speaking out.

The day of the trial there was another major drugs trial going on. My jury was made up of the rejects from that trial. 8 out of the 12 jurors were student age. There were only 3 women. The trial lasted 2 days + the verdict. For both days there was at least one juror turned up late because they slept in.

As I was questioned they looked bored and uninterested. The barrister told me to direct my answers to the jury. But only 2 of them made eye contact with me.

When I came out of giving my evidence, I shut down. I couldn’t talk and I shook violently. It had taken everything I had to keep it together while talking.

During the trial, both defence and prosecution brought evidence from my early childhood. I learnt about the school saying my brother and I were covered in bruises, and skeletally thin. I heard how social services and the school were fully aware of the neglect.

His defence could not say it didn’t happen because my video evidence was so convincing. So instead they took a minor indecent exposure incident with my grandfather and suggested that I had mis-remembered and that it was actually my grandfather who did all that stuff.

That was enough for the young and disinterested jury. They didn’t have to say it didn’t happen, they could just say it wasn’t him.

Despite my abuser coming as close as possible to admitting guilt during his testimony, despite him being so convinced he would be found guilty that he turned up to the verdict with his suitcase, the jury found him not guilty.

Initially I was devastated. After all of that he would walk away free.

But I realised that wasn’t true. I no longer worry about being believed. I believe what happened and I know it wasn’t about me. It was about him and how sick he is. He had not got away free. I had 2 years of hell – so had he. He was convinced he was going to jail. He has been called out. He is no longer free to do what he wants. I doubt very much he will do it again.

And me? I am free. All that stuff in my head no longer serves a purpose. I had a run the day after I gave evidence and imagined it all disappearing in the breeze. There are no more painful memories in my head. They serve no purpose any more so have lost all meaning. I am truly free.

And the Not Guilty verdict freed me up even more in a strange way. If it was guilty I would have used my story to reach out to others. To help people. After all, that’s what I do these days. I help people. The problem is, every time you tell your story, you live it. You have to. To talk about it you need to access your memories. Every time I talked about it I would relive it. So if it had been Guilty I would have been reliving my story constantly.

But it was Not Guilty. So I don’t. I am truly free.

Anger is just like anxiety

It’s easy to forget that the primal fight or flight response includes the word FIGHT.

I think we are used to talking about anxiety; social anxiety, public speaking anxiety, etc. When something scares us we assume that we will either freeze or try and get out of it/avoid it.

But there are a whole bunch of people who react to something that scares them with a fight response.

It’s a perfectly valid response from your subconscious. It’s job is to keep you alive when threatened. So when you are faced with a sabre toothed tiger you have a choice: leg it as fast you can or stand and fight. The physical response in your body is the same for both options : adrenalin flooding through your body, heart rate increase, cognitive function disengaged.

So if you find that you are quick to temper, maybe it’s not that you have anger issues. Maybe it’s that your subconscious thinks something is going to hurt you and it’s doing it’s best to keep you safe and well.

Different realities

colour blind

Some people can’t see certain colours. Some people can’t see reds and greens. It’s hard to understand what they see, when we can see them fine. But we accept that some people see colours differently.

The thing a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not the eyes that see. It’s the brain. We all see things based on our own reality. We all see things differently.

So why is it so hard to accept that we might see other things differently? Why is it so hard to accept that the way we see ourselves may not be the same as others see us?

You don’t know what you don’t know. Until you see things in a different way, no amount of explanation from anyone else will shift your perception. A person who is colour blind will not realise that they see things differently until someone points it out to them. Even then, they still won’t truly understand until something helps them see differently. A person who is experiencing depression will not be able to hear what other people tell them. They are living in a restricted reality in their own head.

This video of a baby getting glasses for the first time is a great example. She doesn’t know that there is anything wrong with her eyesight,  until she sees the world for the first time through glasses.

Baby sees with glasses for the first time

When people leave their first session with me, they mostly look bemused. They know themselves pretty well, and have no reason to believe an hour spent talking to me will change a thing. But as they go through the weeks after that session, they begin to see things differently. Their reality begins to shift. The more evidence they gather of how things can be different, the more it brings into question everything they thought was true about themselves.

It can be both unnerving and exciting.

In time, they stop accepting their emotional state as a black and white truth. They begin to realise that it is a temporary reality that can be changed. Until they do, I am there. I remain the objective observer, finding the right glasses to allow them to see the world as it is, rather than a filtered version based on past experiences.

It’s a wonderful journey and I am honoured to be part of it with so many people.

Plenty of sleep and still exhausted?

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Do you find that it doesn’t seem to matter how much sleep you get, you are still tired?

Do you wake up through the night and struggle to get back to sleep with your thoughts racing?

Let me explain a little bit about sleep.

In a standard 8 hours sleep cycle

For 2 hours of your sleep cycle you are in REM sleep. In this state your subconscious is doing the filing. It is taking all the events and emotions from through your day, and working out how to connect and sort them in the context of everything else you have experienced in your life to-date. It doesn’t do this with any intelligence (it’s your subconscious so it is stupid!)

For the remaining 6 hours of your sleep cycle you are in a state of deep restorative sleep where healing takes place and batteries are recharged.

Where it goes wrong

The problem comes when your subconscious can’t do the filing. This happens when it can’t work out what is connected to what. It stands and scratches it’s head for a bit, searches for the right place to put stuff, changes it’s mind. During this confusion, the REM sleep gets extended. If it can’t work out where to file stuff it just keeps on trying. Because your REM sleep is now extended, your restorative sleep is reduced, which means your batteries do not get fully charged. This is why, no matter how many hours sleep you get, you still wake up exhausted.

It gets worse

Because your batteries are not recharged, you start the day with a reduced cognitive function. You should normally have around 10% of the day where you can think rationally and logically. With this 10% diminished you become less capable of logical and rational thought (or of simple tasks like making a cup of coffee). As a result, you go through your day in a haze, unable to process events that need processing. Then night time comes and you collapse into bed exhausted. But now the filing is even more tricky because you haven’t sorted anything out through the day, because you couldn’t think straight! So the cycle perpetuates.

So what can I do?

Essentially, to sort out your night time stuff you need to resolve your daytime stuff. The best way to do this is to address it during the day (by coming to see me). However, if coming to see me is not an option for you then you can try the 2 simple tasks below:

Task 1: Pre-filing

You can do some pre-filing just before you go to sleep. This means that your subconscious has more of a chance of working out where everything goes and your REM sleep stays within the threshold. You can also do this exercise if you wake up through the night to banish the thoughts that get in the way of going back to sleep.

  1. Focus on your breathing to bring yourself into this moment in time. 
  2. Look for a thought entering your head. It’s impossible not to think so one will always come in (Even if it’s “I’m having no thoughts”). It’s important that you don’t try and stop the thoughts. Let them in.
  3. When a thought enters your head label it. Maybe you can label it as a worry, a thing to do, a thought from the past, Steve. It doesn’t matter what label you use, just stick a label on each thought.
  4. Once a thought has been labelled, visualise it leaving your head again. There are a number of different ways you can imagine the thoughts appearing and you’ll find a way that’s right for you. Examples might include: imagine the thoughts as branches on a tree, as each grows it turns to jelly and drops to the ground, or imagine each thought is like a post-it note that floats off a wall, or a leaf dropping off a tree and floating down the river. It doesn’t matter how you visualise it, just make sure you allow the thought into your head, visualise it, label it, and send it away.
  5. After you’ve labelled the thought and sent it away focus on your breathing again and when the next thought comes in, just label it and send it away again.

Do this until you fall asleep. Keep spotting, labelling and dismissing the thoughts.

Task 2: Listen to the download. Get the sleep MP3 here**

Many people try to address sleep problems by working on the symptoms rather than the root cause. If you really want to get a better night, then you need to try and get a better day.

**It is designed to relax you and get you to sleep, so you would be really really crazy to listen to it while doing anything that requires focus and attention like operating diggers, speedway racing, or even driving. If you are daft enough to listen to it at any other time than when relaxing then the consequences are entirely your responsibility!

You can’t talk someone out of depression

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Don’t ask someone why they are depressed

This is what you read in the mental health forums. People talk about the Black Dog. It is a metaphor for the state of deep depression that people experience. The Black Dog represents a state that is out of their control. It represents an illness.

But what is depression? As a label we all have an idea what it means. In fact most of us, if we are honest, will be able to say we have had a period of our lives where we could have been classed as depressed. For some this period extends out to span their whole lives. There is a perception that you will always be prone to depressive spells.

Labels comfort and constrain us

You are unique. No two people will experience depression in the same way. How can a label possibly represent this?

When you have been battling for a long time, you can feel like you are going mad. Everything can feel out of control. Then you go to your GP and they give you a label. They have to because once they have labelled you they can treat you.

At first a label can be a comfort. You can read around. You can find other people experiencing the same thing as you. You feel part of something. You feel like you are not creating your own problem. You experience the catharses of talking and letting out a big secret.

But you are unique. In time you might realise that you are not the same as everyone else. You may realise that it’s not enough to know that others have a similar problem. Because all those people are now constrained by their label, in the same way that you are.

Medication for depression is not a cure. Medication for depression balances the chemicals in your brain to stop you going too low. They have a value for this. Chemicals in the brain can be very powerful for influencing our state. However medication is a sticky plaster. A plaster doesn’t heal a wound, it just stops it getting worse.

If you want to get over depression, you need to get rid of the trigger.

In my experience as a therapist, there is a reason for depression. The thing that people get wrong is they use their current reality to try and explain why they shouldn’t be depressed: “I have a great life”, “I have great family and friends”, “I have a good job and I’m really successful”

The reason for depression doesn’t come from your current reality. It comes from your past reality. It comes from childhood.

In my experience, the state of depression comes from a mismatch between expectations and reality. Expectations that you should be somewhere in life that you are not, or expectations that you should be able to cope better than you are.

This is why you can’t talk someone out of depression. They are living in a different reality to you and won’t be listening

Moving on from depression

So if you want to move on from a depressed state, instead of addressing current reality, amazing change can be achieved by addressing the source of the expectations

You are not as in control of your thoughts as you think. At least 90% of the time your subconscious is in charge. This part of you is a primitive and emotional part of your brain, but it means well. It’s job is to keep you safe from harm. This goes beyond keeping your heart pumping, fighting off viruses etc. The subconscious also protects you from stuff in your environment that may cause you harm, both physically and emotionally.

Because we are all unique, we all have different rules for what might harm us. This is why some people are scared of spiders and others aren’t. This is why some people are scared of picking up the phone and others don’t even think about it.

These “rules for survival” are created as we grow up. As children we are learning many things. A tiger cub will learn from its parents how to hunt safely, how to sleep so nothing can hurt it, etc. In the same way, our subconscious learns lessons on how it can keep us safe once we are adults. Those lessons go into a rule book.

Between the age of 14 to 16 your brain switches to following the rules in the rule book rather than writing them.

Time travel

So let’s look at depression differently. I said that it is about expectations versus reality. It is the expectation part that’s the problem not the reality. If there are no expectations then you are able to accept your reality.

When I work with clients who have symptoms of depression, I seek out the point at which the expectations were written in the rule book. We time travel through a web of memories to find the significant moment where a lesson was learned. Did you know there a 7,363,282 minutes that you experience by the time you are 15 years old? Any one of those minutes can be taken by your subconscious as significant enough to learn a lesson from.

Try this. Think of the most recent time you laughed. Got it? Now think of the very earliest memory where you felt happy. There is a web of memories and your mind will automatically make the right connections if you just touch on the right strand of the web.

Summary

There is a reason for depression but that reason does not come from your current reality. It comes from expectations versus your current reality. If you get rid of the expectations you can accept your reality. If you change it this way, then you will not keep on going back into that depressed state. It frees you up to accept your life without risk of sinking into extreme lows when life gets on top of you.

To learn more check out my book “The Caveman Rules of Survival”

Empathy

empathyYou might assume that to be a good therapist you need to be able to empathise with clients.

To empathise means to understand and share the feelings of another.

I could not possible understand and share the feelings of every client that I see.

Even if I could, it would be irrelevant because we all live in our own version of reality and the way I experience something bears no relationship to the way you experience that same thing.

I can’t possibly know what you are feeling. We are all unique.

To help you, I don’t need to understand you. I am a problem solver. You present me with a problem that is getting in the way of your life, and my job is to free you up from that problem.

I don’t care how you live your life. I only care that you have the freedom to make your own choices without your subconscious getting in the way.

After my court case I felt I needed to share my personal experience to help people understand how much I can help them. The problem is, every time I share my experiences I am empathising in some way with you. I am giving away a piece of me to connect with you. That’s not how I work as a therapist, so why would it be right for me to do that to bring people to me for help.

I have realised that if I empathise I drag myself into an experience. That’s not good for me and it’s not good for you.

What I do know is that I can always help you if you’ll let me. I know that with absolute certainty because of where I am now after what I went through. That’s where my experiences help. Not because of what happened but because of moving on from them.

Where my experience really counts is when I have a client in my chair and they are in bad place. I know I can help them move on.

So in the way I work, empathy has very little role to play. Neither does my past experience.

I have never smoked but I can help you stop smoking.

I have never been afraid of flying but I can help you get over that phobia.

I have struggled with weight but that doesn’t make me better at helping you with your weight loss.

I can help you because I don’t need to empathise to help you change. I can help you because I am a problem solver.

Overcoming food addiction

I have been lucky enough to have a couple of articles posted lately on some pretty major websites.

The first was on the Huffington Post US site. You can read it here. The Huffington Post Facebook page has nearly 5 million likes.

The second was on Wake Up World, which is an Australian site but has a global reach with over 2 million Facebook likes. You can read it here.

But this post is not about that.

This post is about Phil.

phil before and after

Phil is a financial advisor based up in Aberdeen. I started working with Phil just before Christmas 2014.

Phil is a great supporter of what I do. Every time I get an article out there or write a blog post, Phil shares it. When he hears friends struggling, he suggests that I can help.

The thing that really makes me smile is that every time Phil shares one of my posts with his friends, he says how much weight he has now lost.

On the 24th March, when the Huffington Post article was posted, he said he’d lost 3.5 stone (49 pounds).

On the 20th April, when he shared the Wakeup World post, he said he’d now lost 4 stone (56 pounds)

I need these photos to make sure I recognise him next time I see him!

But I also want to call out an important detail. Look at Phil’s smile. It’s just the same. He has a great smile. How we look does not define us. We are all so much more than our appearance. Whilst my clients often measure progress by weight loss, I don’t. The work I do is about making you happy with yourself. Our work together address so much more than just how you look.

So if you lose weight after working with me, that’s great. If you don’t, but gain the ability to be happy, that’s great too.

Get in touch if you would like my help to be happy with being you.

dawn@thinkitchangeit.com

3 steps to break a habit

Willpower logo trimmedToday is No Smoking day and there will be a bunch of you that want to break the habit of smoking.

So here are my top 3 steps for breaking a habit.

Firstly, a little science around habits.

When you do something that is familiar to your brain it releases a drug called Dopamine. This drug makes you feel better. It makes you do the thing you are about to do. If you stop doing the thing, and your brain doesn’t recognise your thoughts, you don’t get Dopamine. You go cold turkey.

This is why breaking a habit is uncomfortable.

But you can train your brain in the same way as you can train any muscle in your body. You can increase your willpower. And by increasing your willpower you have the strength to endure the short period where you are going cold turkey from dopamine.

Imagine you start your day with a bucket of willpower points. As you go through the day you spend your points. By the end of the day the bucket is empty, so you have no more willpower points to spend. Training your brain is about starting the day with a bigger bucket of willpower points.

So how do you train your brain to have more willpower?

1. Do the same thing differently.

If you are smoking, smoke with the opposite hand. Or smoke a different brand. Or allow yourself to have a cigarette but take one puff and then put it down. Count to 10 and take another puff. Put it down. This is you taking control of something that is normally out of control. Do a little of something different every day. Like with any training, the more you do, the stronger you get. Increase the time to 20 seconds. Hold the cigarette in the opposite hand and with different fingers.

2. Create a long term idealistic goal rather than a shorter term fixed goal.

Decide that in a years time you want to be a non-smoker. This means that even if you have a cigarette today, you haven’t blown your goal. You have something to aim for. Recognise each time you choose not to smoke as a step towards your goal and each time you choose to smoke as a pause. This way there is no failure. You give yourself credit for what you achieve instead of beating yourself up for failure. Consider too, if you put something off until tomorrow, ask “How would the me tomorrow feel about the me today stealing my time?”

3. Just breathe.

So many studies now show that meditation is a powerful tool both for the mind and body. It’s also really good for boosting self-control and willpower. Set a timer for 1 minute every day. In that minute spend time just focussing on your breathing. Thoughts will come into your head and distract you. Take each thought and imagine it disappearing just as quickly as it arrives. You can dissolve it, see it float down a river, imagine it flying away. Any way that comes to mind. You might even find it helps to label the different thoughts – negative, future, to-do, etc. You can change their colour or their sound. But each time you are distracted by a thought, bring your attention back to your breathing after banishing it.

If you need a little help with these steps, you can download the Willpower Workout from the appstore. Search “TICIWillpower” or click on the link below (Apple devices only)

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