Every year I pick a word or a phrase that will represent the year. Last year it was strong. This year I have chosen Let Go So much has changed in my life in this decade. 2010-2020 is where I discovered Trevor Silvester and Cognitive hypnotherapy. I ran the London Marathon. I turned 40. I quit a job on a 6 figure salary and set up my own business as a private therapist.
And I found happinness. I learned I could love. I learned I can be happy. I connected with friends. I lost 2 amazing friends (Marguerita and Elizabeth) and gained many more.
I have published 4 books and gained a reputation where people who have never met me come up to me in Starbucks and say they follow my page. I have done talks to hundreds of people on how screwed up we are. I started working in student support services at my local college, extending my reach to be able to help way more people. I got a Masters in Psychology, as well as my therapy practice qualification.
I’m lined up nicely for my bigger goal which is to speak on a global stage and reach even more people, and for my book to be quoted alongside others such as Emotional Intelligence, and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, as the must read book on self help.
…there is always a but right?
I don’t seem to be able to let go of my past, my story. I am still keeping myself busy and distracted.
In this decade I took my abuser to court. He was found not guilty. And yet, that whole process allowed me to let go of not being believed. I no longer question that it happened. In addition, his defence barrister brought up records from school etc from the early part of my childhood, before I lived with my abuser, talking about me be covered in bruises, starving and dirty….people knew. No one did anything, but people knew. Both the defence and prosecution described this part of my childhood as horrific. And I felt validated. This year I sought out the records referenced in the trial. I contacted social services and the CPS. Nothing. There are no records.
And I ask myself, why does it even matter? It’s in the past. My story means nothing to who I am.
Yes, all those conversations about “what you did when you were younger” are a lot harder for me. I struggle particularly when my daughter asks. But at the end of the day, none of that matters now does it? I am who I am because of my past, that’s true. But holding on to it, and bringing it back constantly just keeps me as a victim and stops me letting go.
Trevor, the therapist I first saw, says I’m keeping myself in the whirlpool. And he’s right, of course. But that doesn’t help me with how to stop. So that’s the goal of 2020, learn how to let go of my story.
There are various terms for conditions associated with a fear of being sick:
Emetaphobia : a phobia that causes overwhelming, intense anxiety pertaining to vomiting. This specific phobia can also include subcategories of what causes the anxiety, including a fear of vomiting in public, a fear of seeing vomit, a fear of watching the action of vomiting or fear of being nauseated
The fear can be of being sick, or of feeling like you are going to be sick, or of choking, or of something else. It’s often connected to an early experience of sickness (either your own or someone else’s) which was so unexpected that it basically freaked out your subconscious.
After observing the sickness event, your subconscious becomes very jumpy.
“Oh my god! That was scary and awful and we need to make sure that NEVER happens again. I know, I will make sure you never eat anything that will cause that”
The problem is that your subconscious is being unneccessarily jumpy. You are not a horse.
Ok, that may seem like an obvious thing to say but it’s actually very relevant.
Horses can’t be sick.
The problem with not being sick is that if you have anything bad in your stomach, you have no way of getting rid of it.
That’s where the real problem lies.
Also, in a real twist of fate, one of the things that horses find difficult to process is fresh spring grass. Too much of it gives horses a condition called Colic.
Colic kills horses.
Because they can’t be sick.
So you see, it’s a really good thing that you are sick. It’s a really good thing that people can be sick. It’s a really good thing that we can choke.
These things mean your subconscious is doing it’s job really, really well.
It is stopping things getting stuck.
It is stopping things poisoning you by ejecting them from your stomach.
And if we can help your subconscious understand this, it can stop freaking out. And that means you can eat safely.
As a side note, when kids have selective eating of any sort, they are usually ready to change when they hit around 11 years old. This is the age they want to hang out with their friends, maybe in restaurants or go on trips away. This is when the eating thing becomes a problem to them, not just you, and this is when I can help them change. If they don’t want to change because they don’t see a problem, they won’t!
If you have anything like the problems I have described, or you know someone who has, give me a shout and let me help stop the subconsicous freaking out. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of us have been betrayed in some way at some point.
It’s not the act of being betrayed that causes the problem. It’s what happens in your head as a result of that.
It can lead to a desperate attempt to control everything, in the belief that if you are more alert, if you just act differently, you can prevent more hurt in the future.
Often, the intensity of hurt that you experience from betrayal can be as bad as the grief of losing someone.
It can trigger Episodic memories, taking you back to times in childhood were you were unfairly accused of something or treated unfairly. It’s that moment, where your brain, in an attempt to protect you from that hurt, learns that you need to watch everything more closely. If you can get in trouble for something you didn’t do, then everything you do could be wrong. This is not a good lesson to live with: feeling everything you do is wrong.
My biggest betrayal comes from my mother. I thought I had a good relationship with my mother. Because she is disabled, I was her carer and constant companion from the age of 10 or so (I lived with my father and stepmother before that)
The first betrayal was when she walked in on my stepfather abusing, and then walked out again, doing nothing.
The second betrayal was a year or two later when I told her he was abusing me, and she lost her temper with me and told me never to talk about it again. And the abuse continued.
The third betrayal was when he divorced her and she asked me to read the letter he wrote her, which contained explicit references to their sexual relationship.
The fourth betrayal was when I reported him to the police for historical abuse. She told me that she would do anything that was necessary to help me and then wouldn’t talk to the police. When she eventually did, she would not corroborate my story.
The final betrayal was during his trial, when my mother refused to come to court to testify. Her written statement was so bad, that it was better for the barrister prosecuting him to let the jury think my mother didn’t believe me, than read it out. At the end of the day, it was my word versus his word and he was found not guilty. My mother was the only person that could have shown the jury otherwise.
It was after the final betrayal that I stopped talking to her and broke off all contact.
I ask myself why I didn’t do it before? What sort of fool was I to ever believe her. I have questioned my whole childhood with her. None of those fond memories were true, because I thought she cared and she clearly didn’t. I feel weak for allowing her to continue to be in my life, for caring. It leads me to think that nothing I believe about our relationship was actually true. And that could eat me up.
However I know that I can’t time travel. Everything was the way it was at the time. I do not have the benefit of hindsight. I can’t let younger me know what was going to happen later. So at every point in my life I’ve been the best version of me I can possibly be.
I am not responsible for her. My actions have no effect on her. It was not about whether she loves me or not. Nothing I do changes what she does. I am only responsible for myself, not for others.
Trigger warning: This post contains explicit discussion around sexual abuse. Do not read if you are at risk of being triggered.
The problem with sexual abuse is not the actual abuse itself. It is not the act of being sexually abused. Sexual abuse is not like violence or emotional abuse. It does not leave you cowering in a corner afterwards, or before.
It is this lack of explicit violence or threat that causes most of the problems.
You do not understand what is physically happening. The abuse usually happens before you have any normal sexual experiences with your body. This means, at the age it happens, you have no idea what is actually happening. You do not understand that your body is physiologically responding to being aroused. The translation of the french word for orgasm is “little death”. When you have an orgasm as a child you do not understand it. Part of you will probably think something is very wrong with your body and it’s being broken, while another part will feel the pleasure from arousal. When you have no idea at all what is happening, this is confusing and sometimes a little scary
It is pleasurable. Your body is programmed to respond to physical stimulation and an orgasm is a pleasurable experience. Part of you does not want it to happen because you know it’s wrong, and the person doing it shouldn’t be doing that. Part of you is aroused, and getting pleasure from the experience. This means that sometimes, you even want the experience. This means that you interpret your role in the abuse as complicit. If you enjoy it, and even, sometimes, want it to happen, then how can it be “abuse”? Surely you are complicit? This is not true. Your body is programmed to respond to arousal, in the same way as your stomach rumbles when you are hungry. No matter how you respond, no adult should ever be sexually interfering with a child. It is wrong. Always. And you did the only thing you could at that moment in time.
You were a child, not an adult. As you get older, you understand more. You understand what an orgasm is. You understand how wrong it was for the abuser to do what they did. And as you understand more about what happened, you overwrite the memories of the younger you, so eventually you think they knew what you now know. You overestimate their understanding of the situation. You forget the confusion, and uncertainty. You focus on blaming yourself. You feel shame and disgust for the role your body played in the abuse. You feel you joined in, instead of feeling like the victim of abuse. The younger you DID NOT understand things in the way the older you does. They were confused. They did the only thing they could at the time. There is no should have, could have or if only…Even if you went back and changed things, how do you know it wouldn’t make it worse? If you fought how do you know it wouldn’t have still happened but then with pain and violence? If you told someone, how do you know they would have believed you and helped? They might have not believed you, like my mother when I told her, and left you to continue being abused. You can’t know what could have happened, only what did. And you are here now. So you did the best you could. This projection of adult understanding onto childhood memories is the root of most struggles that abused adults have in reconciling the abuse.
You are programmed for connection and love. As children we are all programmed to connect love and behaviour. This comes from a very primitive bit of programming where an animal needs to bond with it mother to survive when born. We have the same programming, expanded to include all responsible adults. This means that we make things about us. It also means we behave in a way that ensures we are loved. Abusers are master manipulators. They play on this need to be loved. They play on the programming where you don’t want to upset someone and get into trouble. Love is more important than anything else to our survival. So of course you were manipulated, and of course you cooperated. That was the only thing you could do at the time.
All of this means that coping with memories of childhood sexual abuse can lead to extreme feelings of self-loathing and disgust – not because of the actual acts – but because of the role you feel you played.
You were abused. You were a victim. You did not understand what was happening at the time. There was nothing you could have done differently.
As well as overcoming my own abusive experiences, I have helped many abused clients gain freedom from their abusive past. If you would like my help just email email@example.com You CAN be free of your past.
This may not be a surprise to you if you know anything about my past.
But its not what you think.
This secret has created meaning in the events that followed. The secret has eaten away at me.
You see, it’s not what happens to us that causes us a problem. It’s the meaning we assign to it. It’s the meaning that triggers a protective state. It’s the meaning that causes hurt.
There’s a catch though. We interpret and attribute meaning to events, well before our brain is developed enough to understand.
The prefrontal cortex, the rational and analytical part of you brain, is not fully developed until you are at least 19 years old.
At least 19 years old before you can understand what happens to you
And before you are 16 you have learnt all the important lessons that you need to stay safe as an adult
This is the catch.
And so I have a memory from when I was 9 years old, and it had meaning. It was the unspoken thing.
I think we all have them, those moments that we carry, that we don’t want anyone else to know of, for whatever reason. Sometimes, they rest, untouched, with very little impact on our day to day lives. Other times the gnaw away, answering with silent words in our head.
They are not big, traumatic moments, but they are moments that form our sense of self. They might be loaded with shame, or guilt or something else.
They are unspoken.
My moment? I walked in on my stepfather when he was having a shower. I was 9. I pointed to his private parts, and touching it accidentally, asked what that was. He angrily told me that I should never touch that.
I thought that I made him think about me as a sexual object. I thought it was my fault that he abused me. I thought I was his partner, not a young child who was abused.
I never, ever spoke the secret.
And it meant everything was my fault. Who was I to cry victim when I created the problem?
This unspoken secret meant I planted the idea. It meant I was complicit. It meant I was not a victim. It meant I was a participant in the abuse, not a victim of it.
Because it was my fault.
I knew about my secret. But I didn’t ever speak about it. Or even tell anyone I had it.
I didn’t want them to know that all these things I spoke about were my fault. But I was sure they were.
And so I hated myself and my body for the role it played. I hated it for being involved in what happened. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt like a fraud for letting everyone else believe I had been abused, when actually I had created the problem.
And then thanks to the help of my amazing therapist friend, I spoke the unspoken and the spell was broken.
And now I see that there was nothing I could do. I was a young child. I was abused. That is never a child’s fault.
My body is not to blame. I am not to blame.
Speaking the unspoken changes it.
What is your unspoken thing? Who do you trust to tell that thing to?
There are a number of things that just happened without you having to cognitively engage with the question:
Your mind did an instant pattern match to the word breakfast. This is like a Google search, but way quicker. The search will have returned a match to the first meal of the day.
Armed with that fact, it will now search through your memories, moving back through time to whenever it was breakfast time, and zooming in on what you ate (or didn’t eat).
Next the memory will be layered with meaning. Were you hungry? Did you enjoy it? How were you feeling at the time? Your mind will be flooded with the meaning of the question “What did you have for breakfast?”.
What happens next depends on what that meaning was. When I was a child I used to go and stay with my granny sometimes. She lived in the North Wales hills in an old farmhouse. My home life was not great. I had a stepmother that hated me and as a result I was badly neglected, and skeletally thin due to not being fed enough. We weren’t poor. She just didn’t care. When I went to my granny’s to stay everything was different. There was so much delicious food. In the morning, breakfast was usually porridge covered in dark brown sugar and drizzled with evaporated milk. I used to stir it all in to create a wonderfully tasty and filling breakfast. So, when you ask me that question my brain has already accessed that memory. I have no choice in the matter.
All of these steps happen instantly, outside of your conscious awareness. The results are returned from the search in full 4D, with images, feelings, timings and other people, faster than you can do a google search on the word ‘breakfast’. And you have no idea that all of this has just happened when you reply with “toast”, or something else.
Memories with meaning are called Episodic memories and these are your triggers as you go about your day. Let me tell you a trigger sequence that just happened.
I had a coffee with a friend and we were talking about a brainstorming session I’d had. I did my usual pinball machine effect, bouncing all over the place with ideas. The other person was more measured and structured, thinking about each thing. Afterwards they went a little quiet and I was worried.
My friend told me that one of the things I don’t realise about myself is that I think and process and act really quickly, and most people don’t do that. The other person needed to process and absorb at a different pace. It was a valid point, and one of the main reasons why I think we make a great team.
I told my friend that it’s something I often fail to recognise about myself, and also how intimidating that can be for others.
I remembered a study session at Uni where a friend, who is now my husband, was running the session because he understood it and we all didn’t. He explained it in a way that made sense to me. That was it. I didn’t need any more as I now understood the whole concept. He was blown away as he’d never met anyone like me before. Incidentally this is why I can’t listen to podcasts or learn stuff form YouTube – they don’t get to the point quickly enough for me.
This morning I was thinking about the conversation. My husband often tutors 15/16yo kids on maths. These have been friend’s kids so far. He works hard to plan it and makes sure that he is communicating in a way that works for that kid. He’s helped four kids but each have only done it last minute and had 2 sessions. When the kids don’t get the result he expects, he feels like he’s really failed them.
I missed the last year of my A-Levels (16-18yo exams) because I was ill. If I tried to go to school in the morning I got sick. If it was the afternoon I was fine. I ended up taking my exams at home with teacher supervision. I did Computers, Maths and English. Computers was in a college in the afternoon so I always made those classes and passed the exam. The English teacher supported me really well, sent work home and even had be at her house for a tutor session. I passed that exam. The Maths teacher didn’t care and didn’t support me at all. I failed that.
However, about a month before the exams my parents sorted a maths tutor for me. He was brilliant. I totally got what he was covering. I had him for 2 sessions and actually went into the exam feeling I would do ok. But I failed. Because no matter how good he was, and how smart I was, 2 sessions was not enough to prepare me for an exam.
I told my husband this, knowing that he knew I was bright enough to get it. It allowed him to see if he wants to have a fair chance to make a difference, he needs way more than just a couple of sessions.
One conversation, with one idea, is enough to trigger a whole sequence of episodic memories that might take you anywhere.
There is an accepted idea out there that once addicted to something, you will always be prone to returning to your addiction. This idea is reinforced by mainstream media, with constant stories of celebrities going into rehab or, even worse, taking their own lives through substance abuse. Alcoholics Anonymous encourage the idea that you will always be an alcoholic but that you can follow 12 steps to get off and stay off using alcohol. Many smokers will still answer that they are a smoker even when they have given up smoking for a while.
It is also assumed that, given a certain set of circumstances, people will return to their addiction. It is also accepted that there is such a thing as an addictive personality. In fact, for many years I believed I had an addictive personality and would stay away from addictive substances because of the belief I would never be able to stop if I started.
I no longer believe that to be true. I do not think people have addictive personalities. I believe that people have a need to use some substance to help them cope. As long as there is a need to cope, there will be a need for the substance (or behaviour because gambling and shopping can also be addictions). I had a lot of difficult stuff in my childhood, if I had found something that allowed me to escape from that, I would definitely have used it. Luckily for me, nothing really worked.
To understand why it is possible to permanently overcome an addiction, we first have to look at what an addiction truly is.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is using a substance to either give you a feeling, or escape from a feeling.
Alcohol: Some people drink alcohol to feel more confident in social situations. It allows them to forget their inhibitions. Some people drink alcohol to the point where they can’t remember what happened when they were drunk. This allows them to escape from unpleasant thoughts in their head.
Drugs: Some people take drugs to relax. Drugs like cannabis are often smoked in a social environment where people are chilling out together. Some people take drugs to forget. Hard drugs like Heroin totally take you out of reality. This is often taken by people who really need to escape from the harsh realities of life.
Food: Some people eat because it makes them happy or it gives them comfort. Eating reminds them of happy times. Some people eat to create a window of nothing-ness. This is often true of people who binge eat; they often describe it as a mindless act.
If addiction serves a purpose, then the logical step to take to get rid of the addiction is to get rid of the need for it i.e. get rid of the purpose.
If we try and work on addiction as a behaviour or as a disease, we are merely treating the symptoms rather than the cause. It is like trying to get rid of a tree by chopping the branches; for a while it may seem like it’s been very effective, but eventually new branches will emerge from the root. The only way to get rid of the tree is to get rid of the roots.
How Addictions are Formed
From working with hundreds of clients, I have learnt that connections are made in our subconscious in early years. It is like a massive web, where something that happens right now can vibrate a small thread which sends a signal right back to an early memory. That early memory holds with it the instructions on how to respond. When the triggering event leads to a memory where there was a feeling of hurt, the response returned is one of protection and is designed to enable damage limitation to give you the best chance of survival.
The problem is, these memories are from when you were a child. As a child you didn’t understand the complexities of adult emotion. It was easy to feel hurt by small things, such as your father telling you that you should have done better at a test at 8 years old. If your subconscious equates that moment to feeling hurt, it will lock in a lesson from it and it will become a significant event. When, as an adult, something pattern matches to that significant event, such as feeling like you messed up a presentation at work, you get a protection response that is disproportionate to the event. Messing up the presentation becomes further evidence of how useless you are and how you will never be good enough; all because you disappointed your father at 8 years old. The other problem is that the subconscious is a primitive part of the brain. “Hurt” in the subconscious equates to physical hurt, which ultimately equates to death. So it will do anything it can to stop you getting hurt, even when the hurt is only emotional, as it is these days.
Addiction is Not Necessarily an Addiction for Life
The problem is, because of the spider web of memories, if you try and address the problem in your present reality, you are not changing the early memory. You are merely getting rid of one thread. There are many routes back to the significant memory.
If the memory that keeps getting triggered is painful, then it leaves you with nowhere to go. No matter what you try, eventually something else will trigger it. This is when people turn to a substance. If you can’t avoid the thing that causes the pain, the only option you have is to dampen or escape from those feelings.
Let’s take alcohol. One day you are drinking and as you drink more and more you being to realise that you are not feeling so much. Night after night you tell yourself you won’t drink but the thoughts are in your head and won’t go away. Soon the night time drink spreads into the day when something happens and you just need to escape. Even though the consequences can have a really negative impact on you and your life, in that moment where you are hurting, you do the thing you know works. Soon it has become a habit. Even if the situation that originally made you turn to drinking has now changed, you are now in the habit of using alcohol to cope with everything. Where others may draw on their innate skills, you are now conditioned to use the substance. This is how an addiction is formed.
How Do You Permanently Overcome Addiction?
If we work off the basis that a significant memory from childhood ultimately becomes the root of an addiction, then overcoming that addiction is simply a matter of changing the significant memory. Of course, we can’t change time, but we can change our perception of it. Have you ever compared childhood memories with someone else who was there? I am sure you found that they either don’t remember the same things as you, or, if they do, they remember them differently. We remember things based on the limited understand of a child. This means if we look back on a memory, we have the benefit of hindsight. We can see something differently as an adult than we did as a child.
How Do You Permanently Overcome Addiction?
Now, I’m sure we all know the rules of time travel? If you go back in time and change something, then it will have an impact on the present day. So if you go and look back on a memory with your adult eyes (and maybe an external guide for perspective) then you will see what happened in a different way. If you see it differently you can change it. If you change a significant memory, it loses its significance and becomes just another of the 7,363,228 minutes that you experience by the time you are 15 years old. If a memory is no longer significant, when you vibrate a thread there is no response and no need to go into a state of protection i.e. there is no need to cope. The addiction ceases to serve a purpose.
This process takes time. Imagine you broke a leg really badly when you were 5 years old. The doctors told you that you would never be able to put a weight on that leg again. You spend the whole of your life using a crutch to take the weight of that leg. Then one day, when you are 43 years old, you come and see a therapist like me. I tell you that your leg is perfectly fine and kick the crutch away. Does that mean you are going to run out of the therapy session? No! You will need to learn that you can trust that leg. You need to learn that it can support you. There will probably be times in the early days where you still use the crutch, just to be sure. Eventually though, you will realise you don’t need it. You will never need it again.
Getting over addiction is a slow process, but it can be a permanent one, if you approach it by getting rid of the need for the substance, rather than cognitively choosing to stay away from the substance.
When I used to work in a call centre consultancy, we had a rule that in order to say “I did X and it led to improvement”, you had to have 3 consecutive points where the data showed improvement. These points could be represent weeks or months, but they had to be over time, and a trend.
The easiest thing about the therapy journey with me is the work we do in the room together.
The hardest thing is the bit in between the sessions where you have to look for evidence of change.
Most people have an idea of where they want to be.
Most people don’t look at their life as a trend, it is more about absolutes. You compare now to the person you want to be, losing sight easily of how far you’ve come from the person you used to be.
The problem is, everything you know about yourself comes from your past experience. That is your evidence. It is rock solid. It tells you “When this happens, I react this way”
When you leave the first session with me, you know something has shifted but you don’t know what. I task you with finding evidence of things that are different. That evidence will form a trend over time.
The biggest challenge happens in the first few weeks, while your brain updates. The data points that act as evidence of the change are interspersed with evidence of how things have always been.
I may be good but I’m not good enough to change everything overnight!
So the task is to build our data and evidence of change into a trendline. You can then use this trendline to predict where you are heading. Instead of using your past which has produced most of your evidence so far.
This is not easy. Even I still struggle with this. How do I know who I am, if I am not what happened to me?