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The path less travelled

If you walk through a field, then it makes sense to follow the worn path. It’s an easier route to go. 

Unless the worn path goes all round the field. Then it might make more sense to cut a new path straight through the middle. 

At first that new path will be hard going, but pretty soon it will get easier. 

When others notice the new path, they will probably use it too. More footfall means it gets worn down quicker. 

As the other path gets less used, it will grow over until eventually it will not exist at all. 

This is like your brain as you change. 

Each time you do something new you create a new path – a neural pathway. 

Each time you travel that neural pathway by doing the new thing you reinforce it. 

Old pathways disappear as you stop using them. 

Seeking that new pathway and thinking about that new pathway makes it stronger quicker. 

Pretty soon the old way of thinking and behaving is a long forgotten path. 

This is Neuroplasticity. This is what every client I work with goes through. Permanent changes in the brain. 

Effect of childhood on our genes

Yesterday I attended a conference about ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. It was about making Scotland the first ACE aware nation in the world. It was certainly thought provoking. 

I particularly enjoyed the talk from Dr Nadine Burke Harris about the physical implications of what she refers to as “Toxic stress”. 

Toxic Stress

The stress response is a physical and emotional response designed to help us escape sabre toothed tigers. This set of responses is designed to give us the best chance of surviving when fighting or running away from a predator.

  1. The pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain – is disengaged, because it’s too slow to help us survive. Taking time to think and work out options, in the middle of an attack, is a bad idea.
  2. The heart rate increases
  3. Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body – preparing our organs for instant response. Adrenaline also impacts on the immune system. Not really possible to ask the tiger to come back tomorrow because you have a bad cold right now. Our immune system is directed to preparing to fight infection from any injuries. 
  4. The pain response is adjusted to allow us to keep fighting or running even when injured. 

This all makes total sense – when fighting tigers. 

But what if the threat is violence from a parent, that could happen every day of your childhood. 

What if the threat is emotional or sexual abuse where you are being hurt but not necessarily physically. 

In these situations, the body reacts in exactly the same way. It treats the thing that hurts you emotionally in exactly the same way as if it was going to hurt you physically. 

Epigenetics

In itself this is bad enough, but this toxic stress has an effect on your genes through Epigentics. 

Image result for musical notes and notations

The way Nadine described Epigentics was great. If your DNA is the music notes on a piece of music, Epigentics are the musical notation that tells you what to do with the notes such as speeding up, slowing down and pausing

Epigenetics are like a series of little switches that activate and deactive things in your DNA

Because of these Epigenetic switches, right through into adulthood, when the threat is no longer present, the physiological response can remain.

This can lead to physical issues such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, weight issues and chronic pain conditions such as Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. 


All is not lost!

There are two ways to address this:

  1. We can work we children to offset the effect of any adverse experiences and prevent them from becoming toxic stress
  2. We can work with adults to re-programme the interpretation of the childhood experiences and switch the Epigenetic switches off again. 

Can trauma be controlled?

Trauma is where your brain has encountered something so difficult to process and comprehend, that your only option is to not process it. It’s a tipping point, often from an event that is no more than 20 seconds long. This is often referred to as a flashback. 

These tipping points are often not what would be perceived as traumatic by an outside observer.  Everyone processes in different ways, depending on their experiences in life, the perceived consequences and meaning in the event, and, to some degree, their perceptions of how they should have conducted themselves versus how they actually did.

So if a child is being brutally beaten regularly, that is not necessarily traumatic. The trauma can be caused more by something the perpetrator says while delivering the beating, rather than the direct, obvious pain caused by the violence.

Problems come, not from what happens, but from the meaning found when processing what happened. 

When dealing with trauma, it is common practice for therapists to wait at least a few months after an event before starting any therapy. 

The brain is an amazing thing, that processes and files, and organises everything that happens to us. 

This process takes time. It will be different for everyone. 

If you start trying to ‘fix’ trauma before that processing has taken place, it can do more damage than good. The event may not have registered as traumatic with an individual. Treating it as traumatic will then result in the memory being enhanced and processed as traumatic.  

Image result for flasher cartoon pictures

My husband once told me a story about a time when he was in the police:

2 teenage girls had been walking down the road and a man had flashed at them. 

They reported it to the police and my husband went along to interview both girls in their home. He interviewed them individually in their homes, with their parents present. 

The first girl was distraught. The mother was raging, talking about how disgusting it was and how traumatic it was for her daughter. The daughter was really affected by it and struggled to be interviewed. 

The second girl was calm and bemused. Her mother was joking about it and saying how ridiculous the stupid man was. 

You do not decide if something is traumatic or not, your brain does. 

So whilst we should be aware of the potential of things to be traumatic, we should not presume to know how someone else will experience and process an event. What we class as traumatic will be very different to someone else.

So be cautious about labelling something as traumatic based on your own perceptions of trauma. 

Everything can change. 

I can help you clear that traumatic block from your head. It only takes one session to clear the trauma, and then a follow up session to work on some of the structures in your brain that have been effected by it. 

Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com to talk about how I might be able to help you. 

What Winnie the Pooh teaches us about labels

Piglet, Pooh, Rabbit, Roo, Kanga, Tigger and Eeyore in Disney’s live-action adventure CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Over the weekend I went to see the new Christopher Robin film. 

I absolutely loved it and laughed all the way through. 

Before I went, someone had mentioned that the characters were typical of some standard mental health issues, so I had that in mind as I watched.

It was quite a revelation. 

It showed what labels can mean, but more importantly, what ignoring them means.

Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger

Eeyore

I think Eeyore is the most obvious one. Eeyore is always depressed. His expectation is that everything will go wrong for him and all his friends will ignore him. But here’s the thing, none of them do. They totally ignore his mood and include him in everything they do. They don’t care if he’s depressed, the love him for who he is. They don’t try to change him. They don’t tell him to stop being miserable. They don’t tell him he has a great life and to snap out of it. They accept him as one of them unconditionally. 

Piglet

Piglet has anxiety. He worries about everything. He’s scared of doing anything. At one point in the film, all the friends are going through the tree, out of the hundred acre wood. Piglet stops and says he doesn’t think he can go and he should just stay behind. Once more, Pooh doesn’t try and persuade him that he’s wrong and that it’s actually safe. He just takes his hand and tells Piglet that they need him to get through this adventure. Pooh gently leads him by the hand, into the tree, all the while reassuring him that he’s an important member of the team. 

Tigger

Tigger has ADHD. He loves to bounce, is constantly high as a kite, and crashes around without paying any attention to what everyone else is doing. He will sing his song at any opportunity and you just smile when he’s bouncing around (Tigger is my favourite character). As with the other characters, no one tells Tigger to calm down. No one tries to change him. They just accept him as an often welcome distraction from things that could get pretty intense. At one point he is in a taxi and, seeing his reflection, gets a little over-excited about another Tigger existing. This leads the taxi to crash. Does everyone berate Tigger for messing stuff up? No. They just get on with the situation they are in and make the best of it. 

Winnie the Pooh

For a bear with very little brain, Pooh is remarkably wise. 

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something”

He doesn’t flap or worry. He doesn’t get anxious or hyper. He just accepts things for how they are and trusts that things will work out ok in the end. He is a little obsessed with honey and constantly thinking about food. But it’s not a coping mechanism for him. It’s just who he is. 

All in all I thought it was a wonderful film. I didn’t want it to end. The animation and voices were perfect. The characters were exactly as they are in the books. Whether you find the characters fascinating or just immerse yourself in the experience, I highly recommend it. 

Hold on to your past – it defines you.

When I was 3 I told that my grandfather was molesting me. Nothing changed and it continued until I moved to live with my mother at 8 or 9 years old.

When I was 12 I told my mother I was being abused. Nothing changed and the abuse continued for some time after.

3 years ago I faced my abuser in court and he walked out of the court free. The jury found him not guilty. Nothing changed.

Before I went to live with my mother, I was starved and looked like a skeleton, beaten to the point of being covered in bruises and neglected. School knew. Social Services knew. Nothing changed.

At 14 years old my brother ran away for the first time. He was returned home. At 16 years old he ran away again and this time they couldn’t bring him home.

I stayed.

I went to university, got a degree in computing, met the man who would become my husband, and went on to have a very successful career, eventually ending up on a 6 figure salary in BT. I had a wonderful house, husband and daughter. Everything was amazing.

Except I was still the broken little girl inside. It was all a pretence.

Then I found cognitive hypnotherapy and everything changed.

Nothing changed what had happened, of course. It was me that changed inside. My internal story changed. The meaning behind the events changed.

One day a friend suggested that I should let go of my past as it didn’t serve me any more. I got really upset.

Who would I be if I had not experienced my life?

I am where I am not just because of who I am, but also because of the experiences I went through.

 

If I wasn’t the person I am, I wouldn’t be here writing this, helping people, trying to change the world, one person at a time. I would be like my brother, a drug addict struggling to keep going each day.

If I hadn’t gone through the experiences I did then it would be unlikely that I would dedicate my life to helping others escape the demons of their past.

So I don’t want to let go of the past. It made me who I am.

I sometimes learn new things about my past. Recently I reconnected with a relative (there are very few people from my past allowed in my present life). I learnt things about what was done, and what people new, that floored me a little. I felt angry and upset. I asked why no one protected me, as I have done many times before.

But this time it was different for me. I didn’t ask what was wrong with me. I didn’t feel even more evil and broken.

I felt upset. Genuinely upset that people would treat a little girl that way.

And I felt in awe of the person that I am. The person that got through that. And the person I have become as a result of that.

So don’t let go of your childhood experiences. You need them. They go with your personal qualities to make you who you are today.

Don’t give up on yourself

This weekend I was at Regents University in London for a course run by Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy. To get to the Uni, you walk through Regent’s Park. It’s a stunning park right in the centre of London, close to Baker Street, and behind Madame Tussauds.

I have experienced many moments in this park.

  • There was a conversation with Trevor Silvester about how I would one day look back on my childhood experiences and be thankful for them. I remember that conversation. It seemed a ridiculous thing to say. He could tell it unsettled me and quickly switched to a distraction. But I remembered it. And, of course, he was right. I am in that place now – but only just!
  • There was a moment just a year or two ago, where those of use who were qualified came together for an annual Cognitive Hypnotherapy event. I felt so different. I felt like I didn’t belong. And I felt sad, because I always felt different. I sat on a bench with a Starbucks over the lunch break. I left everyone else behind to chat. I isolated myself. It was just me and a squirrel that wanted what I had (no way it was getting my Starbucks!). I have since learnt to accept my differences – even like them. I can be comfortable with people I don’t connect with, in the same was as those I do. Not everyone is my tribe.
  • There were many Saturday mornings where I walked along, having had a session with Trevor on the Friday, desperately trying to process the barrage of emotions and thoughts that flooded me following yet another fundamental shift.

As I walked through the park on Saturday, I felt a deep, calm peace.

It occurred to me that I was unrecognisable in comparison to the person that first walked through the park just over 6 years ago. So much so, that you would swear it was not the same person.

There have been many times in the last few years that I have felt that I have reached the limit of change. Often, with things that I still was unhappy with. I would try and accept the version of me that I was. I would try and convince myself that some things just couldn’t be changed.

But I didn’t believe that to be true for my clients, so how could I accept it for myself?

And like that 18 year old me that didn’t take the bottle of tablets, there was a part of me that still fought; a part of me that still believed there was something better for me.

And then another shift has happened. In many ways, this was the most profound shift yet. And I realised that I was wrong: everything can change.

Bowling

I often tell my clients that this process is like bowling

Image result for bowling images

When you go bowling, you don’t know how many pins you are going to knock out of the way until you actually roll the ball down the alley. You have to bowl, and wait.

Each session we bowl.

You also can’t take the bowling ball and go round the back to get the back pins first.

You have to start with the front row.

So sometimes you feel that you have gone backwards. You uncover a row of pins, and because the others have been cleared out of the way, they feel significant. It feels like that was the main problem all along.

But as with bowling, you can only get at the back row once the rows in front are gone.

Don’t give up

So my message to you is: don’t give up on yourself.

Keep bowling. Keep going. If you are not happy with anything, it can always be changed. It might take a while, and it might even catch you by surprise, but everything can change.

And remember, whatever you think, the fact that you are reading this blog post means that you have not given up on yourself yet!

We’re all screwed up – including me

It’s not secret that I have had my struggles.

It’s also no secret that I had a very difficult childhood. In fact, people who have heard the story have said I should make it into a film. It is a bit ridiculous!

Cognitive Hypnotherapy has been the thing that freed me up.

Even though the actual number of sessions of therapy I’ve had is relatively low (8 in total over the last 7 years), I have been able to find an amazing level of peace, happiness and contentment with my life. But it’s not been a short journey. Every day has been about learning.

Recently I was getting very frustrated with myself.

I still hated myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror without sneering. I wanted to be someone else. I found it impossible when people said nice things. It was actually upsetting. How could they be so cruel as to say something that was so obviously untrue? It wasn’t fair.

I knew this wasn’t right. It was frustrating. How could so much else have changed but not this?

I also knew I had some behaviours that weren’t right. I would never ask a question in a meeting or at Uni, because I assumed that nobody would pay any attention to what I said. When courses didn’t sell, and videos didn’t get many views I would think “Of course, why would anyone listen to me?”. When someone disagreed with something I said in a forum I would back off and not argue my point. I physically would shake and dwell on what I said and what they said.

I know enough to know that isn’t right, and, more importantly, I don’t have to accept it.

And then I got help from a fellow therapist. And we changed the hurt child girl so she was happy.

And things began to change.

I went to my daughter’s school to talk to them about an issue. I could have avoided it but I didn’t. I felt calm when I was there.

I started engaging in discussions on forums.

I went to the doctors about a lump above my stomach. I’d done this before and they dismissed it but I knew it was not right. I had been putting off going but I made the appointment and stuck to my guns to get a scan.

I went to the hairdressers and closed my eyes and relaxed while I was having my hair washed. Something I have never done before.

To many these may seem like small things, but to me they were huge signs of change.

And then I had an opportunity to do a talk to our local ACES group (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I want to become the sort of public speaker that talks at large events. Ultimately, I would love to do Tony Robbins style conferences (obvious they will be Dawn Style by then). I know that I need to share my personal story – what brought me to this point – if I really want to connect with people. I know I have a hell of a story.

I’ve always been able to write this but never talk. This was because of my mother telling me at 12 years old never to talk about the abuse again. But she didn’t say to never write about it lol!

In the past, when I’ve tried to talk, my subconscious has shut me down. I lose the ability to speak or move. So I’ve avoided telling my story.

On Tuesday I went along to this group event with a plan to talk through my story. ACES is all about resilience, and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on our physical and mental well-being. I know that my story shows how it is possible to be happy no matter what. I know I am a better therapist because what I’ve been through shows that it is possible to overcome anything. This was a good audience to start with.

My passion is to help everyone realise that we can all find happiness, no matter what has happened in our childhood. I have never made it so personal before.

I have never told my life story to anyone out loud, from start to finish before, let alone a room of strangers. I spoke to about 15 people. I told them everything from when I was 6 right up until I took my abuser to court. I told the whole story. I explained how if I’m ok, then anybody can be, if you just have the right help.

It was liberating. I felt so free afterwards. I had told my story and I was fine. That’s all it was – a story. Something that I could use to help other people. It did not leave me shaking (although I was a little nervous when I started talking!). It did not stir up nightmares. I did not go into the ‘no-speaking’ state. I was absolutely fine.

I felt exhilarated and I feel so lucky to have been given that chance.

So now I’m working towards a new TED talk next year. A talk that will draw on my experiences both from childhood, and from working with over 600 clients.

“Our past creates us but doesn’t define us – lessons from over 600 clients”

(if anyone can think of a better click-bait style title please let me know!)

This is my next step and I can’t wait.

Over-thinking

“I over think everything”

“I wish I could stop over analysing. My mind is constantly racing”

These are things I commonly hear from my clients in the first session.

They believe that we can stop those thoughts.

There is nothing wrong with over thinking. In fact, try and think of nothing.

Go on…think of nothing…

You are thinking of the word “nothing” the number zero or an empty space. And I guarantee that empty space has a colour because you can’t think of a nothing colour!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking, analysing etc.

The problem is believing your thoughts and letting them stay in your head.

Thoughts are like a fast moving river. You can’t stop them. You can’t contain them. You can just smoothly direct them onward.

Your thoughts are lying to you. They are not real. They are an illusion created by your brain. And most of that illusion is caused by your subconscious. Your subconscious is in charge at least 90% of the time, so most of the thoughts you have are primitive and irrational. But they hide amongst your rational thoughts. I call them ninja thoughts because they sneak in and pretend they are real.

Imagine this scenario:

You are at work and someone gives you a weird look. You stop and wonder what it is about. You decide that they are not happy with you because you haven’t done that thing they asked for yet. And that’s really out of order of them, because you’ve had loads of stuff to do and you’ll get round to their thing as soon as you have a second. How dare they be offish with you! They have no idea what you are having to deal with. You glare back at them, projecting your anger straight back at them.

Now, we know we can’t read minds. So the weird look was probably because they were thinking about what to do for dinner later, or going over a conversation they’d just had with someone else.

You believe the first thought: they are not happy with you.

Imagine if you could recognise that it was just a thought and it wasn’t true. You wouldn’t go off on this whole story. You wouldn’t react to the thought. You’d observe it and let it go.

The problem is not having thoughts, it’s believing them.

 

Why do I have to wait 2 weeks after the first session?

A client sits in the chair in front of me. They are looking unhappy. It’s the second session.

“How have the last couple of weeks been?”, I ask.

They shrug their shoulders non-committaly.

“Ok. There have been ups and downs”, they answer.

“Good”, I say.

They look surprised.

It’s an interesting phenomena.

Before the first session, anyone would laugh in your face if you said you could sort all their problems out in just one session.

However, because of the way I work, people feel different when they walk out of our first session together. And with that difference , a new bar/expectation is set.

I am good. But I’m not good enough to change your life in 2 weeks!

For every change they experience, they EXPECT that change to be permanent. Of course it’s not. In those first 2 weeks what you get is a sneak preview, a movie trailer, to show you what life will be like in your future. They are moments of change amongst your normal behaviour.

And that’s where the problem comes. By the second session you assume you have gone back to where you started. Of course you haven’t.

If I see you after 1 week, you are still on an unnatural high.

If I see you after 3 weeks, you have stopped seeing the changes and have convinced yourself this won’t work.

2 weeks is a sweet spot. It’s enough time to have had good moments, and usually a bad day. On a bad day you think you are back at square one and then the expectation changes.

You feel disappointed that all the changes haven’t happened.

You sit in my chair and feel despondent (or online).

“Really?”, I ask “How good do you think I am that I can change everything in 2 weeks?”

People generally leave my first and second sessions feeling happier.

About 60% of my clients only need 2 sessions. 

How would it make you feel to know that within 6 weeks you could be feeling much better about your life?

Why not drop me a mail to dawn@thinkitchangeit.com and get started today

One part, many parts, or both

I am absolutely fascinated by this woman.
 
We are all made up of parts. And not all of us can accept that. In most people it becomes about denying there are different parts of us and attributing behaviours to us as a whole.
 
For this woman she has gone the other way and fully dissociated from her parts. She regards them as not belonging to her and paints as them. She has many different painting styles. She talks as if her parts are totally different to her. 
 
I believe we are neither one part, or multiple distinct parts.
 
I believe all behaviour serves a purpose, and all behaviour has a positive intent.
The problems we have often come from a battle between the parts. So I believe that harmonising the parts is the answer – not separating them or ignoring them. (I am not sure if this media file will load)

I recently went on my own journey of bringing some parts together, helped by a fellow therapist.

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