Archive for the ‘Assertiveness’ Category


Burnout Pt.3: Prevention and Cure

December 3, 2010

In the final part of our series on burnout, we explore some of the methods you can employ if you have recognised yourself in parts one and two, and feel that you may be suffering from this syndrome.

In order to recover from burnout, it’s important for you to commit fully to healing. There is no instant cure and you need to be aware that the healing process will take some time, depending on how far down the burnout path you’ve travelled. Clearly, the sooner you are able to spot these symptoms developing, the sooner you can turn your life and your general wellbeing around.

Be selfish!

This is the first and possibly the most important message to take on board if you are suffering from burnout. A good analogy is the advice given to parents during air travel, to put the oxygen mask on themselves first in an emergency so that they are then in the best position to help their child. In the same way, it’s vital for you to realise that you will not be fit to take care of anyone unless you first take care of yourself. So until you have recovered, it’s time to put you first for a change, beginning with your physical wellbeing.


In our busy and stressful society, so many of us believe it’s acceptable to operate on five or six hours sleep. However, if you are showing early signs of burnout, then it’s important to commit to getting a minimum of eight hours sleep a night and preferably at least 10. Going to bed early may feel like a drag, but is surely preferable to the alternative of running yourself so far into the ground that you’re unable to get out of bed at all.


Though it’s healthy to spend some of your leisure time enjoying your hobbies and pastimes, it’s also vital that you make time to practise specific relaxation techniques, such as meditation. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated – try this simple breathing exercise. Take long slow breaths in and out, focusing solely on your breathing and saying silently to yourself  ‘in-two-three-four’ on the in breath, and ‘out-two-three-four’ on the out breath.

You could also try this simple relaxation exercise. Work your way down your body from head to toe, focussing on each body part. Tense that part for a few seconds, then release all the tension until it is completely relaxed, before moving onto the next part. You’ll probably be surprised at how much tension you’re already holding in your body.

Complementary therapies can also be very effective – I’ve found reflexology and reiki to be particularly beneficial. Massage of any kind, be it Indian Head massage, Swedish massage or aromatherapy with oils is also a wonderful way to relax and will help release any knots in those tense muscles.


When we’re heading towards burnout, we often find our diet suffers as we snack on fast foods or overdo the stimulants in an attempt to boost our energy levels. However our body is crying out for nourishment, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to give in to its demands. The best nutrition you can give your body at this time is vegetables, protein and unprocessed foods, as well as fibrous foods and healthy carbohydrates such as jacket potatoes, wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice. Warm foods such as nutritious soups and stews are ideal in the winter months and salads are great for the summer.

You can also supplement your diet with a select range of vitamins and minerals. Particularly good ones are: multivitamins, B vitamins (especially B12), vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Omega 3, co-enzymes and amino acids such as lysine are also good and a DHEA supplement (DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) can also be beneficial. However, if you take prescribed medication, do consult your doctor first before taking any of these supplements.

As well as considering what we do ingest, it’s also worth being more vigilant about what we don’t. Sugar, salt and fats should be limited, and it’s best to avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and recreational drugs whilst suffering from burnout.


As mentioned in part two, too much exercise can be counterproductive, particularly if you’re already on the path to burnout. The key is gentle exercise – a short walk everyday or a few light chores would be more than adequate at this stage, beginning with maybe five minutes a day and increasing the time as your energy levels rise.

Back to nature

You can of course combine this with your daily exercise, particularly if you live in a rural area – a walk outside every day will do you the power of good. Alternatively, if you live or work in a more urban setting, a lunchtime stroll through a park can be just as effective.

Being out in the sunshine also helps, though I am aware that we don’t see much of that in the UK! However the best time of day to be outdoors in the colder months is still around midday, so that lunchtime stroll is well worth the effort.

Another positive thing you can do for yourself is to take a break in nature – perhaps an afternoon in the countryside or by the sea, relaxing in the natural world away from the hurly burly of modern life.

Time Management

Burnt out people often have way too much on their plate, so basic time management skills can really make a difference in your life. You could try: making lists to organise your time more effectively; delegating, by passing on some of your tasks to others (too many burnt out people are perfectionists who erroneously believe that no-one else can manage to do the job quite as effectively as they can); and taking regular breaks, e.g. for every hour of work, take a 10-15 minute break.

Eliminate EMFs

As mentioned in part two, and in particular for highly sensitive people, EMFS (as well as other forms of geopathic stress) can be a huge issue when it comes to burn out. If you feel these are affecting your health, try some of the following: turn off and unplug appliances when not in use; minimise computer and mobile phone usage; switch to an analogue phone (cordless ones are available); and if you live near mobile phone masts or pylons, consider moving if at all possible. (You can read more about this and about the effects of geopathic stress in the book You Can Heal Yourself: Bio-Energy and the Power of Self-Healing by Seka Nikolic.)

Find support

As we saw in part two, negative relationships of any kind can contribute to burnout. Shun those energy vampires and naysayers and spend some time with positive and supportive people who appreciate you. It can be tempting to withdraw from others when you’re burnt out, and whilst time spent alone can be beneficial (see my article on solitude), when you’re feeling low, you can easily lose perspective and become overly critical of yourself. Sharing a cuppa with a true friend can help you bring much needed clarity and levity into your life.

Dump your baggage

Whether it’s emotional, psychological, mental or physical baggage, clearing out the stuff in your life which is holding you back and dragging you down is always a positive move and extremely revitalising. For more on this, check out my articles on de-cluttering here and learn how to let go of those unwanted elements which belong firmly in the past.

Personal Development

Burning out can be the precursor to a time of positive transformation in our lives. One of the ways that we can facilitate this is by focussing on our personal development and learning new, more functional ways of being. Perhaps a lack of assertiveness has been an issue for you or maybe you’ve struggled with low self esteem. Take the time to explore who you really are and find out what you need to grow and transform yourself in a positive way. Reading through some of the entries in this blog could be a good place to start and there are many other resources similar to this which can be found across the internet and in libraries.

Learn the lesson

Finally, as I mentioned in part two, look for the lesson which your burnout is trying to teach you. Regaining your physical wellbeing, freeing yourself of your baggage, discovering your authentic self through personal development work and making the most of your supportive friends are all positive steps towards transforming your life by clearing the way for the voice of your intuition. By listening to this voice we can find out what it is our soul really needs and make our way back to our true path and our life purpose.


The Meaning of Life (part three)

September 4, 2009

Jack White

In part two, I discussed the first step towards finding true meaning in your life, referred to by Frankl as ‘your attitude towards unavoidable suffering’.  If you are able to deal with your past and present negative baggage with a positive attitude, you  will find that the way becomes clear for you to discover what you – as oppose to your parents/peers/partner or society – really value. To illustrate what I mean by this, I’m going to share some of my own story with you.

The Free Dictionary offers this definition of an epiphany:

A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization: “I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself” (Frank Maier).

There have been two significant epiphanies of this type in my life. The first occurred in my mid-twenties when I lost my job (also mentioned in the ‘On Being an Empath’ article) and finally faced up to the fact that the way I was living my life was unsustainable. I was well and truly stuck in the vacuum and it was killing me – my life had no meaning, though this was hardly surprising as I had no idea who I was and what I really wanted. Consequently I decided enough was enough and embarked on the path of personal development which would change my life.

Over the next ten years, I made many momentous discoveries whilst on that path. I acknowledged that a lifestyle based on consumerism wasn’t for me and that working purely for financial gain was akin to selling my soul, prompting me to retrain as a counsellor as I sought out work which would give something back. I reframed negative past events and, after learning the important lessons those experiences had to teach me, was finally able to make peace with them and let them go. I learned a lot about how I related to others including how to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive, and how to establish healthy personal boundaries. I also learned a lot about the real meaning of love through my relationship with my child and I most definitely learned the hard way what I didn’t want from my more intimate relationships. And best of all, as my false self image – created from the distorted reflections of other people – crumbled, I grew to like the person I really was and began to enjoy spending time in my own company. Yet something still seemed to be missing. It was as though I’d stripped my inner self clean of all the baggage and now my authentic self stood there raw and fresh and blinking in the sun, saying ‘well, here I am at last – so what next?’

Fast forward, then, to my mid-thirties. Over the previous decade I’d come a long way and now it felt like the final pieces were clicking into place. However, like running a marathon or climbing Everest, this last stretch was proving to be particularly difficult, not least because I’d ended a relationship with someone who I loved deeply and who I still believe was a true soul mate but who, due to difficult circumstances, was unable to show me the level of respect I deserved. Though I learned some valuable lessons about my own behaviour in intimate relationships which would stand me in good stead for the future, the feelings of hurt and betrayal due to his casual treatment of my finer feelings was still hard to take.

In an attempt to move on, I agreed to go on a long weekend break with a friend. Unfortunately the break was a disaster and I was forced to finally admit to myself something I had tried to deny for years – that this friendship was a little too one-sided for my liking. I’d been hurt and let down by this person several times over the course of our friendship but because I’d known her for so long – and had, at one time, looked up to her – I’d put my misgivings to one side. Now I’d finally reached a point in my personal development where I cared about myself enough to no longer tolerate relationships – be they with partner, friend or family – that were detrimental to my wellbeing. The rationality of this decision, however, belies how difficult it was for me on an emotional and psychological level. I literally felt like my heart was breaking and found myself plummeting into a particularly intense ‘dark night of the soul’.

During the break, I treated myself to a CD copy of Get Behind Me Satan by the White Stripes. I hadn’t really listened to them before but I’d recently seen their Glastonbury set on TV and was really blown away by Jack White’s powerful performance and the way he took command of the stage. The day after we returned, my daughter left to spend the week with her father so I decided to make the most of my free days and enjoy some much needed solitary time. Whilst relaxing, I played my new CD continuously, and the more I listened, the more impressed I was by the way Jack White expressed his feelings so vividly through the music and lyrics. In yet another marvellous piece of synchronicity, the theme of the album reflected perfectly the emotional turbulence I was going through love, betrayal, grief, anger, all exquisitely and impeccably portrayed. Even the title of the album seemed appropriate in reflecting how I was putting the negative aspects of the past – events, relationships and my own behaviours – behind me, once and for all.  (A bit of research uncovered the fact that prior to making this album, Jack had suffered a relationship break-up and been badly burned by a number of old friends ).

In my early years, creative writing had been a very important part of my life. Even as a child, I spent much of my spare time producing stories and poems but for some reason as an adult I kept closing the door on that intrinsic part of myself. That week, thanks to one man’s work, I rediscovered how powerful creativity could be and I finally realised what was missing and what my authentic self was screaming out for. Expressing my ideas through the written word to help others is simply what I was born to do.

As you can see, then, the second step towards discovering meaning in my life, as described by Frankl, was experiencing something – in my case, experiencing the power of creativity. I was still unsure how I would express this creativity – I initially began by simply pouring out my feelings onto paper then moved on to working on a novel – but further experiences and synchronicities ultimately lead me to the final step, referred to by Frankl as “creating a work or doing a deed”. That work is, of course, my Empathic Guidance project which so far includes a website, this blog and an upcoming book.  I also have people in my life who seem to thoroughly enjoy being with the authentic me and who support and encourage me wholeheartedly in expressing that. It’s taken some time and effort – and a vast amount of soul-searching – but I can safely say that my experience of the existential vacuum is a long way behind me now.

To end this article, we’ll revisit someone I mentioned in part two, Stephen Hawking. His positive attitude towards his suffering, coupled with his sense of purpose and encountering someone who he fell deeply in love with gave his life more meaning than it had ever had before, and for me, this quote sums up much of what I have attempted to express in this article:

My dreams at that time were rather disturbed. Before my condition had been diagnosed, I had been very bored with life. There had not seemed to be anything worth doing. But shortly after I came out of hospital, I dreamt that I was going to be executed. I suddenly realised that there were a lot of worthwhile things I could do if I were reprieved. Another dream, that I had several times, was that I would sacrifice my life to save others. After all, if I were going to die anyway, it might as well do some good. But I didn’t die. In fact, although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research, and I got engaged to a girl called Jane Wilde, whom I had met just about the time my condition was diagnosed. That engagement changed my life. It gave me something to live for.”


How to have a healthy relationship break-up (part two)

July 9, 2009


The Left

If you’ve read part one, then you’re probably thinking that an appropriate alternative title for this article would be ‘The no-nonsense guide to breaking up’. Although the end of a relationship is a very emotive time for all involved, experience – both personal and in my work as a counsellor – has taught me that a healthy relationship break-up can only be achieved if there are clear boundaries – hence the ‘no-nonsense’ approach. As we have seen, the rule of thumb as the leaver is ‘Be firm but fair’. As the one left however, the rule is ‘Above all, hold your head high and keep your dignity’.

When you leave someone, you can guarantee that their true colours will come out. I often say – tongue firmly in cheek, of course – that if you’re unsure about how genuine someone’s feelings for you are, then try breaking off the relationship, as the way they respond will make it abundantly clear whether they really love you as a person in your own right or simply view you as an extension of their own ego.

To demonstrate what I mean, here are two very different examples.

Penny and Paul had been in a relationship for two years when Paul said that he wanted to break up. A few years younger than Penny, Paul felt that he hadn’t explored the world enough outside the context of their relationship, and wanted the opportunity to do this as a single man. Penny was utterly devastated, but respected Paul’s request and despite her grief, wished him well. Luckily Penny had a very full life outside of the relationship, with plenty of friends who all rallied round, and a number of creative interests which she threw herself into to help her move on. She did not attempt to contact Paul and asked mutual friends not to tell her if they’d seen him.

Six months after Paul left, he suddenly appeared on her doorstep. He told Penny that he’d made a mistake and that he missed her terribly. He asked for her forgiveness for hurting her and if she would consider taking him back. Penny agreed to consider his request and eventually decided that she loved him enough to give their relationship another go. A year later, they were married.

Contrast this with Kate and Karl’s break up. They had been married for fifteen years and over this time, the relationship had gradually become more like a business arrangement. Karl felt increasingly depressed and frustrated at the lack of affection and companionship offered by his wife, despite his best efforts, and felt that Kate was becoming increasingly contemptuous of him. A sudden death in the family was a real wake-up call for him, and Karl decided that life was too short to stay in a loveless marriage a moment longer.

Kate’s reaction came as a complete shock to him. As she had threatened to kick him out on more than one occasion, he believed she would probably be glad to see the back of him. Instead, she was mortified – ‘How dare he leave me!’- and she embarked on a series of manipulative behaviours in an attempt to keep him under her control. First she tried to seduce him with sex and gifts. When that didn’t work, she tried crying, pleading and threatening suicide to guilt trip him into staying. When this too failed, she became angry and abusive towards him, told anyone who would listen what a ‘bastard’ he was – with a big dollop of ‘poor me’ thrown in for good measure – and did her utmost to make his life as difficult as possible. She bombarded him with phone calls and texts and when he eventually began a more healthy and happy relationship with a former platonic friend who had been supportive of him, she did everything she could to try and destroy that relationship. She also refused to accept that she may have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage (despite the fact that her attempt at belatedly offering loving gestures in the form of sex and gifts demonstrated that she knew deep down what had been lacking) and put the blame totally on Karl and his new partner. Karl had initially felt guilty and sad about ending their marriage, but Kate’s behaviour quickly made him feel relieved it was over and killed off any residual positive feelings he had for her. As he said: ‘The way Kate has behaved is like a spoilt child throwing a tantrum. She treated me like an old toy which she no longer had any interest in, but when that toy was taken away, she screamed blue murder, demanding it back. She didn’t give a damn about me – the only reason she wanted me back was to satisfy her own ego.’

If you are the one being left, here are some dos and don’ts to help you through:

Don’t behave like a victim. Obviously you will need time to grieve, but reserve this for private moments. Don’t walk around with slumped shoulders, a hangdog expression and ‘he/she done me wrong’ written all over your face. Don’t bore your friends rigid with your tale of woe either. People will be sympathetic and supportive for a while, but if your complaints about your ex and the terrible thing he/she did to you continue for more than a month, then you are not only going to find yourself without your partner, you will soon be pretty short of friends too. If you are really struggling to come to terms with your loss, then consider seeing a counsellor or undergoing some other form of emotional healing to help you assimilate and accept your experience and move on.

Whilst it’s fine to wallow in your grief for a while, don’t torture yourself by spending the next six months listening to ‘your songs’, looking at photos of the two of you in happier times and visiting places which remind you of your ex. It is important to work your way through the stages of grief (as famously documented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) as if you don’t, you are simply storing up psychological problems for the future. However, don’t wear your grief like a badge of honour – there is much more to you than your former relationship, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to get out there and reacquaint yourself with you. If there’s something you’ve always had an interest in but never fully explored, why not contact your local college and see if they run classes in your chosen subject? It’s advice often given in agony columns, but with good reason – not only will you be able to distract yourself by throwing yourself into your new interest, you will also get the opportunity to broaden your social circle, which could be useful if the only people you know are mutual friends with your ex. If the thought of meeting people face to face seems a bit much to start with, then you could always ease yourself in gently and try an online course. Many of these also have forums where you can discuss the subject with fellow students, giving you the chance to chat with like-minded people. Alternatively, try undertaking some kind of project – something you can really get your teeth into and which will give you a boost. I once redecorated my entire house from top to bottom in 30 days after a relationship break-up and was really proud of my achievement. Or perhaps you could start an exercise program, go for a complete make-over, or travel to some places you’ve always wanted to visit. These are just ideas to fire your imagination  – only you know what appeals to you most and what it will take to kick start your life again.

Don’t, whatever you do, behave like a ‘bunny boiler’ (the prototype may have been female but this applies equally to men). Driving past their house, turning up on their doorstep uninvited on a regular basis, following them around town and ‘just happening’ to be in the same bars as them, ringing/texting/e-mailing a hundred times a day, then screaming, crying, begging, threatening suicide or being aggressive towards them when they reiterate that the relationship is over is NOT going to win back anyone’s love. It might just win you a restraining order though. Behaving this way has got nothing to at all to do with love, as Karl soon realised. If you genuinely love your ex, then like Penny, you will respect their wishes – as the saying goes ‘If you love someone, set them free’. The following quote also sums this attitude up beautifully, and refers us back to the initial ‘rule for dumpees’: “To behave with dignity is nothing less than to allow others to freely be themselves.” Real love means caring about the other person’s happiness – and if they are not finding that happiness in their relationship with you and choose to walk away, then let them go and wish them well, however difficult that may be. Consider again the story of Penny and Paul – would Paul have wanted to resume the relationship had Penny behaved like Kate, do you think? Keeping your dignity does not guarantee that your ex will come back to you, of course, but you will at least maintain your self-respect and get over the break-up much more quickly. It is two years since Karl and Kate broke up, and whilst Karl has moved on and is happy with his new life, Kate is still alone and living in the past, eaten up with resentment and bitterness,  and still thoroughly miserable and angry that she  (in her mind) ‘lost the game’.

On the other hand, if your ex tries to contact you – not to resume the relationship but because they want to ‘stay friends’ – then ask them to show you some respect and give you a chance to get over the break up. Your ex may be hanging on due to their own insecurity, or because there may be some advantage for them in continued contact, or even because they just don’t want to burn their bridges. If they expect to still be able to see you whenever they wish but have made it clear that they don’t want to continue an intimate relationship with you, then this is very unfair and selfish of them, and you would be wise to keep your distance until you feel you are over the relationship, however long that may take.

Above all, remember that clichés are clichés for a reason and that time really is a great healer. If you deal with your break-up in a healthy way, you will emerge from this time as a stronger, wiser and more self-aware person – and the better you know yourself, the more likely you are to find the person who you can truly be happy with.


How to have a healthy relationship break-up (part one)

July 6, 2009

break upOver the next couple of weeks,  I’m going to talk about the subject which seems to be everyone’s favourite – relationships.

Right now, it’s beginning to feel like almost everyone I know is going through some kind of relationship breakdown or crisis. Relationships seem to be falling like dominos – every week there’s another break-up. And the ones who haven’t broken up are going through such major issues that in many cases separating seems to be the inevitable conclusion.

Many of these people have been turning to me for an empathic ear and a bit of advice so I thought I would summarise some of the main points here for reference. I will talk about how to have a healthy relationship break-up,  and  how to break the pattern of  negative relationships and attract  a more positive one into your life.

How to have a healthy relationship break-up

Part One: The leaver

Relationship break-ups are never easy, whether you’re the ‘leaver’ or ‘the ‘left’. Usually it’s the one left who is thought to be the most hurt by a separation, but I’ve known people stay in relationships well past their sell-by date simply because they couldn’t bear the pain of hurting someone they once loved, and are most probably still fond of, despite no longer wanting an intimate relationship with them.

Generally, people end relationships for one of two reasons. Either your partner’s behaviour towards you is no longer acceptable or you have some pressing need which cannot be fulfilled within the context of that relationship. This article (in two parts) describes some examples of relationship break-ups, both healthy and unhealthy, seen from the perspective of the leaver and the left, with advice on how to survive the process with your self-respect intact.

The Leaver

Lynn has been married for some years and has three young children with her partner, Lee. At Lee’s suggestion, they decided to move to a new area to improve their quality of life. Lynn moved first with the children whilst Lee stayed in the old place for a few months to tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, Lee took the opportunity to exploit his temporary ‘freedom’ and behave like a single man, including indulging in a number of flirtations and an ongoing sexual liaison. He confessed to this behaviour on one of his visits to Lynn, but his sole purpose for doing so seemed to be to relieve his guilty conscience, and he quickly became angry and impatient when Lynn did not instantly forgive him and continued to be upset, with an understandable need to discuss what had occurred.

Initially Lynn’s reaction was to try to save the marriage. However Lee’s continuing selfish behaviour and evident lack of respect for her feelings became intolerable to her. Lynn decided to make the most of a week away from the children – who were spending some time with Lee – and took herself off on a pamper/relaxation break (at hubby’s expense, of course). With time alone to consider her situation, she decided that she valued herself far too much to continue to be treated this way  – plus she had already proved to herself that she could cope just fine as a single parent. She decided to break off the relationship and wrote Lee a long letter explaining why for her, the marriage was over. Lynn is proud of the strength she has shown through this harrowing time and relieved to finally have some peace of mind, and even though she is faced with one of the biggest changes of her life so far, she feels very positive about her future. In her own words, “Life is good… and I hope I can offer strength to others in the same situation.”

If, like Lynn, you’ve decided to break up with your partner, here are a few dos and don’ts:

Don’t break up with someone if you don’t mean it. For some people, a relationship break-up is just another part of the elaborate and manipulative game which their relationship has become. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of game – i.e. someone breaks up with you one week then wants you back the next, only to break up with you again in a fortnight’s time, I would advise you to bring the game to a very swift end by breaking it off yourself. And if you and your partner seem to both thrive on this kind of stress-inducing behaviour, then you may want to examine why you need such high drama and tension within a relationship to keep it interesting.

If you are breaking up with someone because you feel the relationship just isn’t working for you anymore, then be cruel to be kind and make it a clean break. Don’t stay friends – at least, not straightaway – as you will only give the other person hope. And perhaps you should ask yourself – are your motives for staying friends entirely altruistic? After all, even though you no longer want an intimate relationship with this person, there will still probably be aspects of your association you will miss. If you keep the break-up reasonably amicable and you are both decent people, when the dust has finally settled a few months (or possibly years) down the line, there is every chance that you could become good friends. My ex-husband and I were terrible partners and fought like cat and dog, but because we still basically liked each other and dealt with the break up in a mature fashion, fifteen years on we are still great pals.

If you are breaking up with your partner because you feel they have  treated you badly and you want to vent your feelings, do it once (perhaps write it down in a letter, like Lynn did, as that way you can be sure you’ve expressed everything you feel) then move on. Don’t get caught up in revenge and resentment as the only person this hurts ultimately is you.

Don’t play the victim either. The fact that you have broken off the relationship shows strength. Allow yourself time to grieve – even if you’re just mourning the unfulfilled promise which all relationships start out with – but don’t wallow or drive your friends away by continuing to do nothing but weep and wail about your terrible relationship months down the line. Move forward with your head held high, and like Lynn, be proud of yourself for dealing with a negative situation in such a positive and assertive manner, and for respecting yourself enough to give yourself the good life you deserve.

If your former partner was abusive in any way, break off all contact. If you have children, keep contact to the minimum required to deal with any issues relating to the children. Refuse to enter discussions about your former relationship otherwise you are simply prolonging the agony. A clean break and no contact is the only way to send a clear message that for you the relationship is over. If your ex continues to harass you, stalks you, or exhibits any other menacing or violent behaviour in an attempt to goad you into retaliating or worse, to intimidate you into going back, then again, refuse to become involved in any kind of confrontation. When an ex of mine sent me threatening messages telling me to move away from the area ‘or else’, I immediately contacted the police to make sure they had a record of these threats for future reference. It turned out that my ex had a history of this kind of behaviour, so the police paid him a visit. When my ex realised that I was not going to enter this kind of game playing, the threats soon stopped.

Equally, don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into taking someone back when you know in your heart of hearts that the relationship is dead in the water. Seeing someone you once loved sobbing and pleading with you to come back can be very difficult to take, particularly if you are a sensitive and caring person, but if you do return the relationship will continue as it did before,  only this time tinged with resentment on your part due to your partner’s emotional blackmail. Again, no contact is the only answer. Don’t answer the door to them, get caller display and don’t pick up the phone when their number (or for a while, number withheld) comes up,  don’t respond to texts or e-mails  and definitely don’t agree to meet up for a friendly drink – in other words, don’t allow yourself to get engaged in any kind of personal interaction with them. If you refuse to respond, your ex will eventually get the message and give up trying. If they don’t, then this constitutes harassment and you will be justified in taking appropriate measures to stop this. Don’t be swayed by the tears – if they are refusing to respect your wishes then however much they protest, they actually don’t give a damn about you – this kind of behaviour is all about their feelings, not yours. And I’ll talk about this more  in part two – The Left.


Assertiveness – your basic rights

June 15, 2009

As promised in part 4 of the de-cluttering blogs (and slightly later than planned), here is the more in-depth look at the bill of rights as listed in Anne Dickson’s book, A Woman in Your Own Right: Assertiveness and You.

Although the book is aimed at women (and this piece reflects that gender bias somewhat), these are all basic human rights which apply equally to men and to children.

* I have the right to state my own needs and set my own priorities as a person independent of any role that I may assume in my life.

This does not imply that you no longer have to honour the responsibilities within the roles you assume, e.g. spouse, parent, employee etc, but is simply a reminder that your own needs are as important  as the needs of those you care for. Women in particular find that they lose themselves in their roles – since having my daughter, I seem to have transmuted socially into ‘Phoebe’s mum’ rather than a person in my own right. When the world sees you as your role rather than for yourself, it’s easy for a woman to feel that maybe this role – and the people she cares for when in this role – is more important. Even if you find that your needs conflict with these roles – and it can be hard to carve out time for yourself in between fulfilling your obligations – it is still vital that you do your best to meet those needs in whatever way you can.

* I have the right to be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.

Though we may all pay lip service to this right, often we do not even treat ourselves with respect and some women unfortunately have a tendency to play down their intelligence to fulfil their expected role in our patriarchal society (remember that character in the Fast Show who was a strong assertive career woman around other women, but a simpering girl around the men?). You may also struggle when you’re in a situation where you feel out of your depth through lack of expertise – for example, when dealing with a doctor, a mechanic or anyone who has some kind of know-how which you simply don’t possess. Remember this important right and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated.

* I have the right to express my feelings.

It is important – though not always easy – to identify and accept what you feel and give yourself permission to express these feelings. Emotional expression has been seen as a weakness in our society, which has resulted in many people losing touch with how they genuinely feel. It is therefore important to become aware of how you feel at the time (rather than agonise over it for days, weeks or months before you realise), accept the way you feel and adequately express it. However, remember to express your feelings in an appropriate manner, always being aware that assertiveness is not the same as aggression. Blaming, name-calling etc is never acceptable in any circumstance.

* I have the right to express my opinions and values.

Even if the majority disagree with you, you have the right to your own opinions and values. You also have the right to stand up for these opinions, if you choose to, as well as the right to not be bullied into justifying them.

* I have the right to say yes or no for myself.

This sounds straightforward but is actually connected to the first right about roles and responsibilities. Often your other roles can be an obstacle to making choices for yourself. However, if your family or friends want to know why you want to do a certain thing, whether it’s changing your job, leaving a relationship, going to college or even just getting a new hairstyle, you have no need to justify yourself. Because you want to is enough.

* I have the right to make mistakes.

Many of us believe that making a mistake is unacceptable and demonstrates a failing on our part. However you can make a mistake without it implying that in essence you are lacking in someway. You can behave incorrectly, make a wrong move or do a bad job without it indicating some intrinsic flaw in your character. This right can permit us to acknowledge the mistaken piece of behaviour without losing that central core of self-belief.

* I have the right to change my mind.

In the early stages of learning to make assertive choices, this right can be invaluable. Often decisions are made for the wrong reasons. You may believe it’s what is expected of you or that it’s what the other person wants. However these decisions are usually the ones we grow to regret. Learning to assertively change your mind prevents you having to proceed with a commitment you are unhappy about.

* I have the right to say I don’t understand.

As with making mistakes, we often feel an undue amount of shame as adults in acknowledging lack of comprehension or ignorance. However we can hardly expect to know everything any more than we can expect to be perfect. With this right in mind we can learn to acknowledge confusion or a lack of knowledge without feeling stupid or ashamed.

* I have the right to ask for what I want.

Most people would agree that this is reasonable and that everyone has the right to ask for what they want – until your request conflicts with their wishes or expectations. Many people, especially women, spend their lives going along with what others want or what other people tell them they want, and end up settling for something which is unfulfilling for them because they do not feel they have the right to persist and upset others. We’ve all been on the receiving end of the somewhat irritating ‘passive-aggressive’ approach where someone drops hints rather than makes a direct request: “Oh, don’t worry about me – *sigh* –  I can manage fine on my own… if only my back didn’t hurt so much…” . Asking for what you want outright – ‘I’d like some help, please’ will gain you a lot more respect, from yourself as well as others.

* I have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems.

It is especially important to remember this right when in a caring or helping role. The problem arises here not in choosing to take care of or help people in need or those we love, but in compulsively taking care of everyone else all the time so that there is no time or consideration for our own personal needs. This right involves setting our own limits about who to care for and whose needs to put before our own, and refusing to give in to demands made using emotional blackmail. It’s not selfish or uncaring to take care of you – it’s healthy. And don’t let those perpetual victims tell you otherwise.

* I have the right to deal with others without being dependent on them for approval.

This right underlies all the above. The need for approval is the single most important factor which creates unassertive behaviour. An early association is formed in childhood between behaving in a way which is approved of and earning a loving response. Therefore many of us still fear disapproval as it threatens our basic self-esteem. It is important to remember that most of the time, although we project this disapproval onto others, it is actually our own inner critic which is creating the ‘disapproval’. The more effectively you can silence, or at least reduce, your own inner critic to realistic proportions, the more successfully you can assess your own behaviour and unhook yourself from dependence on the opinions of others. As your concern about ‘what others think’ lessens, you soon come to realise that even if someone does disapprove of you, it’s not the end of the world. This last right demonstrates the point made at the start of this blog entry which is that self-esteem and assertiveness go hand in hand. The more you are aware of your basic rights, the easier it will be to behave assertively.

Finally, this quote from Anne Dickson sums up why I think assertiveness is an important quality for us all:

Assertiveness offers hope. Because it is based on self-esteem, it offers a new way of relating to other people. The power that is released when individuals stop hating themselves is a potentially remarkable force for change. We are less afraid to make contact with others whose lives and values are very different because we can move from a centred sense of self. As we free ourselves from the tyranny of self-hatred we can contribute to that process of liberation in others and acquire the necessary humility and wisdom to recognise both our individuality and interdependence as people in this world.



Time to de-clutter… (pt 4)

June 4, 2009

This week, I’ve been discussing how to simplify your life through holistic de-cluttering. So now you’ve sorted out your home and the practical side of your life, it’s time to delve into the deeper aspects of your world. Emotional de-cluttering is about checking out your present emotional and interpersonal landscape and making positive changes which express the authentic you. Think of yourself as a sculptor, chipping away at a huge block of stone to reveal the beautiful and unique statue – your true self – beneath.

Here are a few ideas to help you begin the process:

For an instant emotional boost, try avoiding news programmes and papers for a while. There’s enough to deal with in your immediate vicinity without having to deal with the collective bad news of the world, especially as the content has been so heavily manipulated and dictated by the people who run the media.  Most news consists of ‘millions of people died a horrible death today’ followed by ‘meanwhile in other news – lots of politicians and businessmen indulge in smug debate whilst shafting the rest of us.’  Worrying, getting angry, feeling the pain of others and being riddled with guilt because you feel powerless to help is counterproductive  – what did the blanket  coverage of the Baby P case achieve other than mass guilt, anger and distress in the national collective conscious? If you take on this type of emotional clutter on a daily basis, you may end up disenabled with despair. A more constructive way to channel those feelings is to become actively involved in a cause which particularly concerns you and which you can do something about. Join Amnesty or Liberty or whatever group represents best what you feel most strongly about. Pro-activity will reduce those feelings of helplessness and replace those negative emotions with confidence and determination.

Another pro-active way to reduce emotional clutter in your everyday life is through learning about assertiveness. Being assertive makes the process of emotional de-cluttering so much easier and revitalises your relationships, as you will have the emotional clarity and space to reflect on what you want and don’t want in your personal interactions. You will also find that when you feel confident enough to speak your truth, your self-respect increases and you will receive more respect from others too. In her book A Woman in Your Own Right: Assertiveness and YouAnne Dickson lists the basic rights we all have as individuals – that is, the rights we deserve simply through our existence. Though the basis of these rights is not particularly new or revolutionary, you can use them as markers for your own self-esteem and respect, should you find yourself involved in any personal exchange which creates feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.

  • I have the right to state my own needs and set my own priorities as a person independent of any role that I may assume in my life.
  • I have the right to be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  • I have the right to express my feelings.
  • I have the right to express my opinions and values.
  • I have the right to say yes or no for myself.
  • I have the right to make mistakes.
  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I have the right to say I don’t understand.
  • I have the right to ask for what I want.
  • I have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems.
  • I have the right to deal with others without being dependent on them for approval.

(I will look at all these rights in more depth next week.)

One outcome of your emotional de-cluttering may be an increasing awareness – or even a sudden realisation – that there are certain people you no longer want or need in your life. Sometimes we hang on to friends who we no longer have anything in common with, out of a misguided sense of loyalty or obligation because they’ve been in our lives a long time. Or  maybe there are certain people who pollute you with their bad energy every time you see them – the selfish friend who only takes and never gives, the whining ‘poor me’ friend who never makes positive change but expects you to keep listening to their repetitive complaints, the critical friend who puts you down and sneers at everything you say…. So, go through your address book and listen to your intuition. If your heart sinks when you read someone’s name, or if the thought of seeing that person makes you desperately start to think up excuses to avoid seeing them, then maybe this is someone you should think about ditching. How you do this is up to you – you can either phase them out slowly or, if you’ve got the assertiveness bug, tell them the truth. Life’s too short to waste time appeasing and entertaining people you don’t really care for.

Your original family – the people who’ve been around in your life since you were a child – can be somewhat harder to deal with. Unless you’ve been seriously abused, then chances are you’re going to continue to see these people for the rest of your – or their – lives. After all, your family might have some really irritating – and often downright rude – behaviours and an annoying tendency to treat you as if you’re still the person you were at 14, but they’re still family and the only people who shared that familial experience with you – and despite your differences, you know you’ll always be there for each other when the chips are down.  However, this does not mean you  have to tolerate being spoken to or treated disrespectfully. In some families, the culture of familiarity appears to encourage members to speak critically and rudely to each other – or maybe scapegoatting takes place, where all the family’s negative feelings are projected on to and acted out by one family member. If your family is like this, then you’ll find a particular assertiveness technique useful (and this one is also effective on children) – don’t reward the bad behaviour. Refuse to engage in the old dynamics which make them feel comfortable and if they insist on continuing to talk to you in that way, simply leave (or hang up the phone) calmly, and minimise your contact until their attitude towards you changes. The trick is to make the relationship bearable and manageable for you so that it doesn’t add to your emotional clutter, triggering feelings of anger, guilt, depression etc whenever you spend time with them.

To minimise your emotional clutter, there may be other changes you need to make. When you think about your life, which aspects are you content with and which trigger feelings of frustration, disappointment, regret, sadness?  Your job? Your long term relationship? The place where you live? What steps could you begin to take – and remember, you only need to take baby steps, the change doesn’t have to be overnight – to bring you closer to the life which reflects your true self? (For some advice on a technique to kick-start this process, please refer back to my blog ‘The greatest gift you will ever give yourself’.)

Of course, there’s a good chance that your present issues exist because you’re weighed down with old baggage from your past. For example, lack of assertiveness can indicate long-term low self-esteem, or you may be attracting dysfunctional and co-dependent relationships into your life because you’re continuing to act out past family dynamics. Exorcising this past stuff – your psychological clutter – reduces the amount of emotional clutter you carry in the present – and I’ll talk about more about how to psychologically de-clutter tomorrow.

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