Posted in Weekly Blog

Dealing with shame

It had been requested by the group to look at dealing with shame as a group topic. We began by watching the video clip of Brene Brown talking to Oprah about her research about shame.

Group members responded to this idea that talking about shame is helpful as some of them had experienced that this process for them, of talking about things they were ashamed of was very healing.  People also responded to the idea that shame grows with silence and secrecy but cannot survive empathy and understanding.  We talked about what is the difference between guilt and shame concluding that shame is about our identity; how we see ourselves and also how it extends externally in how we worry about how we are seen by others. We talked about what it is like to grow up with shaming messages or the message that our worth is dependent on us achieving or doing well-it is conditional.

Shame can come as a result of being abused, sexual or otherwise in childhood. Thoughts about this can create a very visceral reaction and people can physically feel sick, disgusted and a sense of revulsion. 

People also talked about things that they had done or said when younger that we now feel shame over, what can we do about this now?  Sometimes we just have to acknowledge that we did some things we wished we had not, but recognise that this is common to every human being. In some situations there is maybe a possibility to say sorry if it is appropriate and may help the other person. However, a sense of shame does not serve anyone, so maybe this same message applies that if we talk about the things we feel ashamed of, this can dissipate the shame. We can accept the error, accept ourselves and move on with the learning and growth from the experience.

It is important to have self-compassion and understand common humanity, (rather than thinking ‘I am such a bad person, no-one else is like me or would do such a terrible thing’) and bring some understanding for maybe why we did things at the time. 

Shame is sometimes connected to responsibility we carry that isn’t ours to carry, other people make us feel bad for things we are not actually responsible for.

Deborah Lee in her book ‘The compassionate mind approach to recovering from trauma’ explains how shame can lead to feelings of anxiety; internal shame because when we are self-critical and self-hating this activates the threat system, causing us to feel anxious. With external shame we are afraid of how we exist in the minds of others. This links back to a basic survival need to belong in a group for protection. When we fear this social loss this activates the threat system again resulting in feelings of anxiety. Lee lists some of the common fears and beliefs we can have when feeling ashamed such as ‘I do not deserve love, kindness and care, or for good things to happen.’ Or feeling weak and pathetic for not being able to ‘get over things and move on with life’. Participants could identify with some of these thoughts.

After the group it was interesting to find an article in ‘Therapy Today’ about shame, saying:

“The way out of shame is to talk about the very issue you are ashamed of with people you trust”.

I guess this helpfully consolidates the conclusions we had come to as a group, when we do find the courage to speak, it is very important that those we speak to are trustworthy.

Posted in Weekly Blog



“I don’t see what others see in me”.  This is a saying that we can hear a lot of in society throughout all walks of life. Is this a default position we go to or are there cultural reasons for it? Certainly here in Scotland and the rest of the U.K. there does seem to be more of a tendency to play down our strengths as to do otherwise could leave you feeling uncomfortable. Is there a fear that by acknowledging our strengths we may be seen by others as ‘getting too big for your boots’ or ‘playing your own trumpet’. Does finding the fine line between confidence and arrogance play a part in our fear? You only have to look at celebrities who are universally loved by people all over the world who also can struggle and use self-depreciating comments such as; “What if I get found out, and am not as good as people seem to think I am?” This may seem like a silly thing to say given all the evidence to the contrary, but it does show that  they are only human and can have insecurities like anyone.

Group members shared their own experiences of how they found acknowledging their strengths. Some people actually felt that it would be much easier to list their short comings.  We then did an exercise where we asked people to write down the strengths and qualities they saw in one other and pass it back to the person so they could see the qualities others saw in them.  While people found it nice doing this they still found it a challenge to take in and believe what people saw in them.

Today’s subject felt very relevant as this group is very much based on helping people build up their sense of worth.  The hope being that through doing this it can play a part in being able to acknowledge their strengths without totally dismissing them.

Posted in Weekly Blog

Having fun increases our well-being


While preparing for our group programme in advance we are always mindful of the need to make sure it is finely balanced between light topics and others that are a bit heavier. After having a few deeper sessions it felt nice to mix it up today having a session on fun!  It’s something that is so important for our well-being which sadly at times we can all too readily dismiss as un-important.

We did an exercise using spiritual cards and asked group members to choose a card that meant something to them. People found this useful as it provided an outlet to communicate how they felt. After this we played the card game adaption of the popular game show, ‘Catchphrase’. By the end of the game the scores between the two teams were fairly equal!

We finished with a look at what people’s favourite movies where and why. This evoked a discussion about the emotional attachment certain films held for people. Some of the films chosen were, ‘Cinema Paradiso’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’, ‘Back To The Future’, ‘Riding In Cars With Boys’, E.T., ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’, ‘Mary and Max’ and ‘The Godfather’ It was so nice to feel the passion and energy this brought to the conclusion of todays’ group!

Pop corn with soda and movie shows

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Exploring Mental Health Diagnoses


We posed the question to people in the group as to whether receiving a mental health diagnosis had been a helpful experience. For those who had experienced a correct diagnosis and accessed the right treatment, this was extremely helpful as they could now understand what was happening and what to do to best look after themselves.  For people where it had taken a bit of a journey to make a correct diagnosis, and where treatment for a condition which was not theirs was given, this was unhelpful and distressing and in some cases caused more damage.  We talked a little about the diagnosis of  BPD-Borderline Personality Disorder, this is a bit of a controversial diagnosis; it suggests that there is something wrong with a person’s personality. Using the term ‘disorder’ can leave people feeling upset and stigmatised.  The diagnosis is confusing and little understood; it is a clinical diagnosis based on a collection of symptoms, which are often parallel to the effects of trauma.  However, it is not an actual defined disease or condition, more possibly a reaction to adverse life events, and therefore not a permanent condition or state of being.  

We talked a bit more about how people sometimes felt stigmatised or defined by some of the words used to describe some mental health conditions:

Mental health words

People felt that some of these were quite descriptive, sometimes in an unhelpful way leading to assumptions and stigma and a lack of understanding.  Others felt that the not so descriptive terms could be helpful as they had experienced that if someone genuinely cared and was interested they would ask about the persons mental health condition in a way as to understand how it actually affected them.

Receiving a diagnosis can feel helpful and liberating for some while for others it may be another way of keeping stigma and unhelpful terms used in society alive.

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Coping With Anxiety


Anxiety is part of our make-up as people, it’s built deeply into our brains to protect us.  At appropriate times and in the right measure it is necessary and helpful to us.  But it can get stuck, leaving us feeling uncomfortable and overwhelmed with life.  In recent groups we have looked at some practical ways of managing difficult feelings with self-compassion and managing stress .

Today we looked at some other ideas to combat anxiety, or at least to feel calmer.  Starting with our senses, specifically we looked into, or rather had a good inhale of some essential oils.  Top of the recommended list for anxiety is Lavender, there is some small-scale research finding that lavender lowered anxiety levels for people at the dentist and for watching scary movies. Also recommended for anxiety are Rose,  Vetiver, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Chamomile and Frankincense.  We also tried smelling Geranium, Peppermint, Citrus and interestingly Thyme-not an immediate go to for anxiety, but because it helps to open up respiratory functions which become restricted in anxiety, this can help.

Following the sensual start, we turned again to self-compassion meditative exercises.  Focusing on deeper breathing is immediately helpful for calming anxiety.  But a new practise we are learning is how to sit with uncomfortable feelings.  Our default reaction to feeling horrible is to kick against the feeling, get rid of the thought and just get out of feeling uncomfortable.  However, in this exercise, in a hopefully slightly more relaxed state of deeper breathing, we felt where the anxiety maybe sitting in us, we may feel it in our stomach, or rising to our chest, even blocking our throat, in our heads, behind our eyes or in a generalised tense state of tight muscles and high shoulders. So we paid attention to it, focused on where it was, visualised it, could we start to soften the shape of it?  Conversely,  focusing on it did seem to have a calming effect!  Maybe we do feel a little bit braver and able to handle things better when we find the courage to face them head on.

The other huge assistance which group members reported in being able to manage anxiety was the friendship and support of the group.  Knowing that people are there for you, understanding how you feel without judgement is a huge support for people, knowing that this group very much holds people who face regular challenges in life.

This is an interesting article on anxiety from huffington Post



Posted in Weekly Blog

Favourite places


Today was the first part of the new programme.  As with every programme we try to make it varied with a wide mixture of content. For today’s group we did an exercise where everyone was asked to write down places that meant something for them. These places did not necessarily have to be holiday destinations, they could be any place which hold an emotional attachment.  Some of the destinations chosen by group members were; Japan, Arthur Seat (Edinburgh), Arizona, Spain, Italy, Jersey,  Alaska, Texas, North Wales, Portobello (Edinburgh), Tibet and former Czechoslovakia just to name a few.

One of the most fascinating things about doing the exercise were the emotions that were invoked . It was really nice to feel the positive energy and passion shown throughout the room. The exercise seemed to help facilitate group members into have a different perspective on ways to deal with things which they find challenging.