Today’s group looked at how we saw ourselves in romantic relationships. The way we are in relationships stems from beliefs we hold on our self. The blueprint for how we see ourselves most likely originates from our first relationships, Our parents and family.
We did an exercise to look at this and find out what messages we learned from childhood. Below are a couple of examples of this;
In this group we looked at how body language impacts us in a couple of ways; in feeling powerful and in flirtation. Amy Cuddy (Ted talk below) talks about powerful and powerless body language, so we tried out being in the different positions and noticed what it felt like. In the positions where we made ourselves smaller and protected people felt a mixture of it was harder to breathe, a bit crushed, a bit vulnerable, and for some it felt safer. When we tried the more open, expansive positions this gave a little more confidence, some people thought that in some circumstances maybe it could be a bit arrogant so we discussed context and appropriateness.
Flirtation! Now this can be a minefield when we start to try and interpret our own body language towards someone we like or try and read other’s as we wonder ‘are they flirting with me?’ So we had fun with the points raised by the Ted talk below in considering how humour, open body language, touch, attention, proximity and eye contact are signs of flirting or showing a genuine interest in another person. It is interesting to note that when feelings are reciprocated, a close proximity and longer eye contact is welcome, but if we are not interested, that feels uncomfortable for us or vice versa. So, it can be quite be tricky to navigate these unspoken social cues. This is where having a bit of awareness in reading the signs can be helpful. Personally my favourite is in which direction are the feet pointing! If it’s towards the exit this is a helpful sign.
We reflected on ‘how do you walk into a room?’ We thought of this in line with Amy Cuddy’s encouragement to fake it til you become it. She believed that she didn’t belong but behaved as if she did. Finally she realised she had come to feel like she belonged.
We considered the power of words over our body language; we tried an experiment where it seemed that negative words may actually deplete us physically where as affirming, kind, compassionate and encouraging words give us strength.
At today’s group we looked at how bullying can affect us. We looked at it from the view point of both the aggressor and victim. People who use bullying behavior often have very low self-worth and enjoy putting others down in order to make them feel better about themself. This person is behaving from a fearful place and is most likely very vulnerable. If you have been the victim of bullying this may feel hard to believe.
We did an exercise where we looked at people’s experience of bullying behaviour.
One is a statement about past experiences while the other is in the present looking forward. Below is the template used;
“Bullying made me feel like I am…”
“Today I honour myself by choosing to feel that I am…”
Below is a written example of how it may be used;
“Bullying made me feel like I am worthless and deserving of this behaviour. “
“Today I honour myself by choosing to feel that I am a worthwhile person who values themself. I will not let people control me and can use these past experiences to help myself and others”.
The group said that the qualities which made a good friend were loyalty, that means that someone can be trusted to not repeat what was shared in confidence. People enjoyed common interests but also different interests in friendship. A good friend would be understanding, encouraging, and able to tell you hard things even though its difficult because they care about you and what is in your best interests. Good friendships are encouraging, growing, equal and mutual which means support is given both ways when needed. Boundaries are understood and respected, as are values. Honesty, authenticity and being genuine were seen as important qualities in a friend. We also discussed ‘the eggshell factor’ meaning that there was balance in the relationship about being to directly tackle ‘anything in the room’ and an ability to break tension and awkwardness and the freedom to be honest and not having to play games around each other, able to have a dialogue about what is going on.
Good friendship qualities are being discreet, kind and fun and sharing humour. It was highlighted that the importance of friend relationships can be a bit underrated in society because there is such a focus on dating and marriage when actually friends are so important and no less necessary even if you are in a relationship! Some of the group recognised that sometimes a lack of friends is to do with circumstance and not an individuals ability to make friends. We may look at how to make friends in a future group, as this can feel difficult in some seasons in life, for example moving to a new place, following the breakdown of a relationship or having low confidence. A shared history was also seen as a good contributor in a friendship, and especially shared values as people thought it would be quite difficult to be friends if someone had extreme views which conflicted with closely held values.
Things which people thought were not indicative of true friendship were abuse, control, belittling, sarcasm, not really caring but exploiting and taking advantage and someone who is not genuinely interested in how you are but is all about their own self interest.
In this group we talked about poetry. What is a poem? Maybe it rhymes, maybe not but it probably has a rhythmic quality, and perhaps it will use symbolic language; speak to us in metaphors and veiled imagery, maybe it will be able to talk about difficult and taboo subjects in aesthetic and acceptable ways. An ordinary topic gets made mysterious, or a difficult one becomes beautiful, emotions can run, flow more easily into wistful, torrential linguistic expressions.
Some members shared poems which they had written, others remembered poetry from childhood and we looked these up. And together the group wrote a poem:
Ups and Downs
What’s the difference between up and down?
We come from all over the town
We might wear a smile or we might wear a frown
What’s the difference between up and down?
Up is light and down is shite,
Mixed emotions, spinning head
I’m glad I got outa bed
Come to the group and deal with all the things inside ma heid
Or suffer Paul’s bad jokes instead
Or was it better staying in bed?
Liz’s calm meditations led
It’s great to see our Thursday friends
‘cos my week’s been driving me round the bend
If I miss three weeks I make amends
Why does the darkness precede the dawn?
We offload all our thoughts and grief
Feeling better as we leave
After check out we can breathe
Feel strong to tackle the week ahead
Now it is time to get fed
Today the group began talking about some of the stuck places we can find ourselves in. This may be due to circumstances; difficulties with health, finances or repetitive disappointment. We acknowledged these factors but began to acknowledge that the way we speak to ourselves about events could be changed for a different mindset allowing more potential, possibility and optimism. Some of the group shared about ways in which they had dealt with negative thinking patterns. One of these ways was by noticing what the thoughts were rather than just operating from feeling and doing. By becoming aware that it is the ‘Think’ which influences the feel and do, the person had made big life changes and was more positive. Another person shared about ‘fake it til you make it’ and how this had helped them to force themselves through difficult situations, ultimately this was helpful as in the end they did feel ok. This was about sometimes adopting a state of resignation or acceptance of a difficult, unchanging circumstance because in the end this served the best interests of those involved rather than fighting.
People chatted about the positive energy it takes and the force required to make changes, even getting out of bed some days when energy or mood is low takes an incredible amount of force, however we concluded that in general people do not regret getting up or getting up earlier so it is worth the discomfort. Mel Robbins speaks about this too in the Ted talk below.
We also considered the mind body connection, our low thoughts can make our bodies heavy and vice versa. Altering a state in one may well alter the other. Another tip from the group was to think of 3 positives for a negative as they had found this very helpful. Each time there is a negative thought about something, or one of those pesky ‘What-if’s’ think of three to counter it.
Some other regular themes of discussions in our group were revisited too as ways to become more positive, such as finding things to be thankful for, being aware of the stories in our heads, the content of our conversation with others, be kind to yourself-which includes being able to say no things and assert boundaries. We talked about commitment to following ideas through too even if we don’t feel like it . People talked about Mel Robbins (above) 5 second rule whereby it’s important to follow an idea with some kind of action within 5 seconds otherwise we lose the impulse.
We know that it is not as simple as swapping a negative for a positive. However, from our discussion and people sharing their experiences of what has worked for them, there are some proactive steps we can take to introduce our negative bias to an alternative perspective.
Over the years we have done a good number of sessions about our relationships with food; healthy food, how food affects mood-specifically the link between gut health and mental health and changing our eating habits. In this session we looked at what happens when our relationship with food becomes the behaviour through which we try to manage difficult emotions and thoughts.
We looked at three specific types of eating disorder; anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating and a syndrome called authorexia which can sedge way into anorexia.
Much of the following information is adapted from a webinar from SMART Recovery called ‘Behavioural Addictions — A Look at Gambling and Eating Disorders with Dr. Chris Tuell and Ms. Ann Hull ‘
Anorexia is an inability to maintain weight and the body goes into starvation mode. The body craves carbohydrates but these messages are ignored. The brain produces opioids creating a high . The experience of starvation becomes a high due to the numbing effect from the opioids. Anorexia can take many different forms from not eating, eating but then vomiting and also over-exercising as well.
Anorexia often starts in adolescence. The way out of disordered eating is through eating, so it’s complicated to recover from something you have to do every day. Research shows that the average adult makes 226 food related decisions every day. It’s important to remember that it’s not about the food. People talk about the food, but it’s not about the food.
Bulimia is a pattern of binge-eating and then purging in order to prevent weight gain. It’s not a fear of food, it’s a fear of weight gain. Getting rid of the food creates a high, people start out purging so they can eat more food, but in the end it morphs very quickly into eating more so you can purge.
Binge-eating is defined as eating much more rapidly than normal until feeling uncomfortably full. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry. Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating and feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating.
Authorexia is defined as a syndrome, it is a focus on clean or healthy eating, or only organic etc which has become obsessive. It becomes time consuming, expensive and very restrictive meaning often the absence of food options, coupled with weight loss it may morph into anorexia.
People use relationships with food to cope with emotions in the same way that people self medicate with drugs or alcohol.
When eating starts again, just like any addiction-when you give up, all those feelings come flooding back, and they’re never the feelings of joy, peace and happiness they are usually resentment, anger, unhappiness , disappointment sadness so no wonder people want to give them up. So we have to learn to sit still with all those uncomfortable feelings, about our bodies, who we are, about our life.
People in the group were able to talk about their own experiences of having difficult relationships with food at times. In thinking about what can help it is worth remembering that eating disorder is a symptom of emotional dysregulation. People say they feel fat, but fat isn’t a feeling. We focus on food and weight so that we don’t have to feel emotions because sometimes we have been conditioned from childhood to suppress these feelings for various reasons.
Because discorded eating is rooted in emotional pain it is helpful to find healing and supportive relationships. Also, because we take less care of ourselves when we are stressed we talked about a particular breathing relaxation method called vagus breathing.
The vagus nerve connects your gut to your brain, and is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to “rest and digest”, the opposite of “fight or flight”. A way to reduce stress or improve decision-making, is by doing a few rounds of vagus nerve breathing based on four breaths in and eight breaths out which stimulates the vagus nerve. Participants in a research project who focused on breathing patterns with longer exhalations for two minutes reported lower levels of stress. They were also able to do significantly better in answering test questions. Researchers concluded from the study that breathing patterns reliably increase heart rate and improve decision-making.