23 Mar 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Healing

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Parallels

Where to start? Where to start? Lines? Lines? Yes, okay. Yes, okay. Worlds? Worlds? Definitely! Definitely!

This can’t go on.

And it won’t! That’s enough of that. Especially as parallels are not identical. And neither are we human beings. But we do have collective patterns in common, which is a different matter. From physical characteristics like the fact that, other things being equal, we all have noses; through behaviour like the fact that, other things being equal, we all prefer to sleep at night; to mental functioning like the fact that, other things being equal, we think and feel and dream. So much so uncontentious.

Perceiving patterns, not only collectively, but personally and more minutely, which seem somehow to be similar despite the fact that they make themselves evident in completely different contexts or domains, is a different matter altogether!

Some examples: Bingeing (or restricting) on food with a parallel pattern of bingeing (or restricting) on relationship with other people. Or again and more straight-forwardly, experiencing a traumatic event and then subsequently having recurring dreams and flashbacks about it. Or again, and often more mysteriously, having experienced harm in the past and then repeatedly putting ourselves in situations which potentially or actually threaten to, or even deliver on, giving us more and similar pain in the here and now. Or again, and finally, for now anyway, repeatedly and inexplicably feeling guilty about all kinds of completely different things when we know in fact there is nothing to be feeling guilty about.

Patterns like this are often characteristic of people who seek therapy. They are cognitively and emotionally intelligent and perceptive enough about themselves to actually notice these sorts of parallels. They have also realised that their insight, understanding and ability to perceive parallel patterns, does not in itself make much, if any, difference at all to the way such patterns are adversely affecting their quality of life.

Parallel patterns in part, and speaking reductively, often might appear to simply be a product of our tendency as human beings to seek comfort in habit and making unconscious connections. But could it also be, from a more positive and purposeful perspective, that our even deeper, even more unconscious, self is trying to tell us something we have somehow forgotten or lost touch with? Taking the trauma example above, could it be that flashbacks and recurring dreams about what happened in the past, are telling us that we still have unresolved, connected feelings about it that need our attention now in the present so that we can forget about it, leave it behind us in the past where it belongs? Or again, referring to the example above of a pattern of bingeing (or restricting) on both food and relationship, that we need to attend to both to our physical and our psychological nurturing needs? Or again, if we are putting ourselves at repeated risk of harm, that we need to attend to why?

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

circles 16 Mar 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

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Circles (in mixed metaphors!)

One way of describing life is as a line from birth to death. But, of course, that is amongst a myriad of other descriptions because there is more to our lives than just a straight line. I mean if we could look inside our bodies we would see they are full of cells whose structures are all more or less spherical, with a circulatory system that basically goes round. And if we panned out and looked down from space we would see our planet is more or less round too. A globe. A circle. So does that mean life is a series of circles, then, from birth to death?

But seriously…. Physicists talk of invisible things like sub atomic particles that are tinier than tiny, and other things, like so-called ‘dark matter’ of which they are made, that are bigger than all the skies. All we non-physicists can do is take their word for it and try to imagine some impossible place where the biggest and smallest things are identical, if only in their invisibility. To do that we perhaps have to look at ourselves! At how, to take just one example, we inflate our feelings so much and make them so huge, on the one hand, that at the same time we can’t help recoiling and distancing or dissociating ourselves from them, on the other, effectively rendering them miniscule, unimportant.

Even better, perhaps, than quantum physicists knowing that light is both a wave and a particle, we can know that our own contradictory feelings may not make logical sense but that doesn’t make them any less true. eg. ‘I love him’ and ‘I hate him’ can both be true at the same time. Both/And. Or again, ‘I want to keep slim and fit and go the gym,’ and ‘I want to slump in front of a screen with a glass of wine and a box of chocolates’. Again, Both/And.

We can go through phases in which our own particular circles always seem to be spiralling downwards. In our relationships, for example, we can find ourselves repeatedly falling into patterns of blame and recrimination when things go wrong; either blaming ourselves or our significant other despite knowing that in doing so we are conforming to a pattern that will get us nowhere beyond further reinforcing it, and despite knowing that there is more to the relationship than this kind of binary reductionism. We are sane enough to know that it is crazy to reduce our amazingly polyvalent feelings down to just one thing or it’s opposite; by feeling, for example, too guilty or too innocent and then going round in circles trying to shore up this stereotyped, over-determined simplification.  But still we do it, like an attritional dance on a floor we can never leave. Round and round.

If we cannot leave the floor gradually, gracefully with our dignity intact, perhaps another way off it is to be aware of the fractals* and random choices involved and make a ‘quantum’ leap, or step change into doing our dance differently. But in particular into not falling into the binary, Either/Or, trap. Circles are just not either vicious or virtuous. There will always be elements of both throughout our journey along the lines of our time.

*Look it up if you don’t know. It’s interesting!

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: TheSurreyCentre/Counsellors

reflections 09 Mar 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

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Seeing the Other

Yesterday I had a small fall from the bottom-most step on the stairs. I wasn’t hurt and knew it had happened in part because the autumn nights are drawing in and I hadn’t put the light so I hadn’t seen it, had stepped from it as if I was on the floor.

As I sat on the floor nursing my knee it made me think about how limited, but therefore how full of potential to see more, our vision is. I am not talking about visual perception now. I am talking about the ability to see others and to recognise –re-cognise– and understand or empathise how things might be for them.

Often in my work it has been necessary when working with couples to ask one member of a couple what it is like for the other to show how much understanding he or she has for the other. Perhaps surprisingly, although on reflection maybe not, this often seems, and I emphasise ‘seems’ because actually it is not, much harder at a basic level for heterosexual couples than it is for gay ones.

Why this should be so is maybe obvious, but it is often hard to see what is directly in front of our faces. As I am peripheral to the problems in their coupledom it is perhaps easier from the position of my peripheral vision to see the incomprehension that each partner has of how the other person is affected by their behaviour at a very basic, even biological, level.

Although I am not wanting to bandy cod biology about by supporting people who reductively ascribe behaviour on the part of their significant other which they find difficult, to ‘pre-menstrual tension’ or ‘testosterone’, I do feel the genders would benefit more from looking and seeing exactly how their partner is different from them at this fundamental level which is otherwise all too easy to take for granted.

And I find myself generalising, speaking in truisms, stating ‘the blinking obvious’ which ironically can be so hard to see by partners in a couple who are in the full throws of anxiously or aggressively trying to differentiate connections with one another in their arguments.

How often have I had to put it to women that when their male partner is throwing his weight around emotionally and not listening to her, he is feeling exactly like a frightened little boy. And how often have I had to put it to men that when their female partner is from his point of view being unnecessarily fearful of him, he has never been a woman and doesn’t emotionally cognise, let alone re-cognise, how scary a man’s physical size and vocal volume can be when he is behaving angrily.

I know this will by seen by some as a sexist, ‘binary’ observation, but women and men are different; they are other. And for a good relationship they need not just to be aware of their differences and similarities, but proactively try to see them in all their obvious yet complex and subtle actuality in every single interaction they have together.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: TheSurreyCentre/Counsellors

sorrow-artwork 02 Mar 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

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Tragedy Touches Us All

It seems to be part of the job of a human being to suffer and feel sorrow. But in addition to experiencing these things, and in contrast to most other living creatures, we not only have to feel them, but also to know what we are feeling.

Existentially this seems to require life to provide us with a fluidly chimerical, ever changing yardstick of contentments and happinesses by which to measure these sufferings and sadnesses of ours and hopefully more than counterbalance them.

Now I am ‘neutral in knowing’ – agnostic – about religious beliefs and ideas, if not about their importance, so please don’t think I am beating any particular religious drum in asking you to now consider Albrecht Durer’s ‘Man of Sorrows’ (1493)*.  Is there is a more accurate depiction of a bored and jaded sorrower? He faces you, in a caricature of what would now be called a relaxed manspread, one leg up, (on a bench? which isn’t visible). His pose would  jauntily signify the energy of his godliness if it weren’t for his wounds and the miserable expression on his face.  With his genitals against what looks like a wooden table top, he is listlessly cupping his sceptre in his left hand. The elbow of his other (right) arm is on his raised knee so that he can lean his cheek on his hand. There is nothing nonchalant about his pseudo-relaxed pose. His head bleeds decorous little drops of blood from the ironic mock-crown of briars on his head, and a switch – the one with which he was whipped? – lies on his own lap. Like Sisyphus in an older belief system, endlessly repeating his duty to suffer, his direct stare is more telling than his wounds and it speaks of how boring and depressing it is having to be a person of sorrows, but making it clear he understands it is actually his duty so to be. But what then, more precisely and exactly, is his duty? It is to feel our pain. And not that he seems to expect it any time soon, but he looks as if he might also even be grateful if in return we might be kind enough to feel his pain too.

What we humans can do perhaps better than most, though by no means all, other species, is engage in those on-going, multifarious communications we call relationships. And an essential element in any relationship of any value is empathy. That is, a feeling for what it is like for someone else. And embedded in empathy is a sense of morality defined as a consistent feeling of wanting to show care and consideration for him or her.

Above and beyond the fact that at times sorrow and suffering seems to be a necessary condition of the human experience, this picture reminds us that being in a state of chronic hopelessness as we suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, we no longer expect empathy.  But actually most people are nice, we do have empathy and we do need it. Especially when we have given up all hope of it!

* Here is a link to the picture, if you want to look at it:

http://caravaggista.com/2011/08/albrecht-durer-and-the-man-of-sorrows/

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: TheSurreyCentre/Counsellors