Tag Archives: resilience

It’s not what happens to us

Sometimes, when I talk to clients or even potential clients, they say things like “I had a great childhood” or “I feel bad because what I went through was nowhere near as bad as you”. But you see, none of that matters.
It’s not what happens to us, but the meaning that our subconscious takes from it that causes the problem. In that context, having a school friend betray you can have just as much of an impact on the rest of your life as being beaten by your stepmother.

You have two different types of memory:
1. The first type is autobiographical memory. This is a chronological memory a bit like the old-fashioned photo albums, or photos on your phone that are sorted in date order. Moments in type are stored in order, connected by sequence. Individual examples of that time are stored as snapshots. These are relatively two-dimensional memories without significance. I went to four different schools as I was growing up. If you asked me which schools I went to and when, I would start with the first, on Anglesey, then move to the second which was in Manchester. To do this I would visualise my first school, and some connected event from the second school. The third school was a primary school back on Anglesey. I am now thinking of the headmaster of that school and the house I lived in. From there I can make my way to the fourth school which was the last one I went to. It’s easy to approach this kind of autobiographical recollection. You simply pull on a thread and see where it leads you.

2. The second type of memory is Episodic. These are memories that are easy to recall because they have some sort of meaning. Unlike Autobiographical memories, they often appear unbidden. Taking the example of my four schools: as I typed episodic memories were popping into my head. My first school made me smile. I remembered the dinner ladies standing at a table with my brother and I after dinner time. The hall had no other kids there. They’d all gone out to play. The dinner ladies had put one of the giant metallic pots they used on the table. This one had custard in it. They were ladling a runny pale yellow custard into our bowls and we were hungrily polishing it off. I was starved as a child. Not because we were poor, but because my stepmother hated me. We had to be invisible or we would get a beating, and she often neglected to feed us. Many years later I found out school knew all about this. So, the memory that I have just described made sense as the dinner ladies were doing their best to feed us up.

It’s the Episodic memory that causes us the problems. It’s that memory that triggers a protective state in your subconscious. It’s that state that disengages your thinking brain and takes control away from you.

Today is my brother’s 48th birthday.

When he was 16 he ran away from home and hitchhiked to London. He lived on the streets for a long time. He got into hard drugs to survive. His life has not been easy. He has a little place of his own now but he still has to take methadone every day. And he drinks. I really have no idea how he survived this long! But he is a survivor my brother. He’s always landed on his feet. We had a similar childhood. This was his response.

My response was to escape by going to Uni.

We all respond to things in different ways.

So remember, it’s not what happens to you that causes the problem. It’s the meaning. And it’s the meaning that interrupts your ability to live your life and be happy.

We can’t change what happened, but we can see it differently. That’s what I do.

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.

3 signs you are more resilient that you think


People seem to think that resilience is where you are unaffected by the stuff that goes on around you. In  my opinion, resilience is about the time it takes you to get over stuff and not about being human and being affected by it in the first place.

So let’s look at 3 possible signs you are more resilient that you think

1. You can think of at least one occasion where you felt like your life was over

When you reflect back on your life, can you think of a time where something major changed throwing you into the turmoil of uncertainty? The problem with change is that our subconscious hates it. Change means death. Routine means survival. So when something major changes in your life circumstances – a change in a relationship status, loss of a loved one, being betrayed, illness etc, we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us and enter a phase of uncertainty. Because we are programmed to hate uncertainty, we try and cling on to those things that are familiar. This can lead to holding on to something that is wrong for us for longer than we need to.

The fact that you are reading this means that you made it through. And maybe now, as you look back, you might realise that the thing that made that period of uncertainty harder, was holding on to the familiar because of the fear of letting go.

2. You have sought help to get to a better place

Have you ever read a self help book, watched a TED talk, visited your GP for help? I see many clients who see it as a sign of failure that they’ve *had* to seek out help from someone like me. Seeking help is a sign that you are willing to fight for yourself. Reading something or talking to someone to try and better understand yourself, or to cope with stuff, is a sign that you are not willing to just lie down and take whatever is thrown at you. You aren’t accepting the status quo. This is a clear sign of resilience. It is not about those obstacles that will always come across your path, it is about how you overcome those obstacles.

3. You are reading this

However much of a wreck you feel you are, you are still here. However much you feel you have messed your life up, you are still here. However many times you have felt like giving up and ending it all, you are still here. You are reading this, which means you are still here. You are way more resilient than you realised. If you drop the expectations that you put on yourself; for how you should feel, should cope, should achieve things in life, and just accept that you are here, right now, reading this, then you might realise that you are ok. Being resilient is not about being bulletproof so that nothing affects you. Being resilient is not about being able to cope with anything that comes your way. Being resilient is about getting past whatever is thrown at you.

Becoming more resilient is simply about getting over things faster, rather than not being affected by stuff in the first place

Exercise : One door opens when another closes

  • Do a timeline of your life so far.
  • Look back on those moments where it felt like a door had shut and you were left in a long corridor with no way out.
  • Now work out what door opened because that other one closed, a door that you would not even have known about if the other hadn’t first closed.
  • Ask yourself “what skills/resources did I have that allowed me to overcome that moment” or “what skills/resources did I gain from overcoming it that I did/can use in later life”

Things we can learn from Cinderella

A couple of days ago, my daughter and I went to see the new Disney Cinderella film. We all know the story. A young girl is forced to work as a servant by her wicked stepmother and step-sisters when her father dies. She meets a prince and lives happily ever after.

Disney do a good job of re-making films like this. They are also very good at including powerful lessons – if you are listening for them.

“Have courage and be kind” says Cinderella’s mother on her death bed.

With this mantra, Cinderella is able to take on what happens to her when her whole life changes. For each thing that happens to her, she uses this mantra to appreciate the moment. When she gets put in the dusty old attic she appreciates that she will have peace from her sisters. When she gets locked away from the prince when he is looking for someone to try on the shoe, she dances and smiles because she will always have her memories.

As I discussed it with my daughter after the film, I pointed out that most of us struggle to enjoy the moment in that way. Things that comes from our past or worries about our future become a story that defines us. We don’t see that we can write our story in a better way.

It reminded of a book I read which really resonated with me. In “The Obstacle is the Way” Ryan Holiday looks at how we approach those things that challenge us. It is a lovely, easy read.

At a point later in the film, Cinderella is being locked in her room.

Why are you doing this to me? She asks her stepmother

It’s interesting phrasing. Most of us would ask “What have I done wrong?”. We assume there is something wrong with us. Because her mother told her to be kind and have courage, Cinderella does not take her stepmother’s behaviour as being about her, but rather as being a problem with her stepmother. This takes some doing; to not feel like we have done something wrong, to accept that everyone is screwed up and that people acts based on their own issues, not yours.

So I took two powerful messages from the film (which was also nice to watch, by the way)

  1. A moment is as good or as bad as you make it. It is your thoughts that define your experience
  2. You are only responsible for your own behaviour, not that of others.

Now these lessons are all well and good, but when your subconscious hijacks you then you no longer have the freedom to choose to see things in a different way. You lose your ability to think.

That’s where I come in. I free you up to think. So if you need my help, drop an email to dawn@thinkitchangeit.com and let me work with you to free you.

15 Mindset Questions–try it out yourself

IMG_2699[1]A friend shared the following link with me the other day on 15 Questions to Ask Your Kids to Help Them Have Good Mindsets.

I decided to ask them to my daughter, who is 6. I also decided to answer them myself.

Maybe you would like to try? 

1. What five words do you think best describe you?

Daughter: Beautiful on the inside, Kind, Like playing, Don’t like seeing people upset, Like playing with friends

Me: Determined, amusing, caring, daft, impatient!

2. What do you love doing that makes you feel happiest?

Daughter: Playing with friends

Me: Hanging out with my daughter (also doing talks and helping clients)

3. What do you know how to do that you can teach others?

Daughter: Teach them how to be happy

Me: Teach them how to be happy!

4. What is the most wonderful/worst thing that ever happened to you?


Best – Snow and Sledging.

Worst – When I get shouted at.


Best – Having my daughter

Worst – Losing my son

5. What did you learn from the best/worst thing that’s happened to you?


Best – Be careful not to crash into trees

Worst – Shouldn’t be upset because mummy and daddy are looking after me


Best – I am capable of loving in a way I never thought was true.

Worst – It was not my fault and the Universe is not against me

6. Of all the things you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?

Daughter: Be Kind. I don’t want to be a nasty bully when I grow up

Me: My clients and my family teach me stuff every day. I am not planning on growing up any time soon though Smile

7. If you could travel back in time three years and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?

Daughter (really struggled with this one): Go to sleep. Don’t mess about

Me: It gets better.

8. What are you most grateful for?

Daughter: I feel grateful that I have you as parents

Me: Everything. I feel like such a lucky person.

9. What do you think that person feels?

We skipped this one because it didn’t make much sense.

10. What do you think your life will be like in the future?

Daughter: Amazing

Me: Amazing

11. Which of your friends do you think I’d like the most? Why?

Daughter: Josh, because we spend most time together

Me: I don’t care! Who I like is nobody else’s business

12. If you could grow up to be famous, what would you want to be famous for?

Daughter: Singing

Me: For writing a book that everyone can relate to and for helping people where others couldn’t

13. How would you change the world if you could?

Daughter: Everyone would like me and do everything for me! (Pretty much describes her life right now lol)

Me: I would stop people judging others.

14. How can you help someone today?

Daughter: Give them a great big hug.

Me: Smile

15. If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what rule would you make? Why?

Daughter: Be friendly. I don’t want bullies in the world. I want everyone to be kind and helpful

Me: Stop believing you can read minds and live your life for you.

A bedtime story if your kid is scared of monsters

This story is part of my “How to avoid screwing up your kids” course.














You can download the pdf of this story here

GCSE in grit

I was listening to a programme on Radio 2 yesterday that was discussing whether or not we should have a GCSE on resilience for kids.

The suggestion and discussion was around how you should teach it in schools.

I listened open mouthed.

Since when did resilience become a thing we learn from books?

Even worse that we feel society is that broken that we shouldn’t just teach it but we should test it too.

Then again, the timing of this programme is good because I am just about to publish an online course which is to help parents understand what they can do to bring up resilient kids.

It’s something a lot of us worry about

Is what I am doing as a parent screwing up my kids?


The course covers:

  1. The way we build (and can break) the connection between moments and events and what they mean to love
  2. How to deal with your kids when they are scared of stuff
  3. A simple technique to change behaviours without losing our temper
  4. How to teach your kids that we are all unique and how to deal with their own problems
“How to avoid screwing up your kids” Course

The course will be available on www.udemy.com and I will share the link with you once it’s available.